Matt Damon discovers that “it’s a small world after all”, in this sci-fi comedy which is full of big ideas, but sadly not all of which land.
The trailer for Downsizing certainly tried to emphasise how quirky and unique this film was promising to be, and off the bat you should know that the trailer is in fact a little misleading, but it is hard to fault the vision of this film. The idea of a futuristic society in which people can be shrunk down to approximately 5 inches tall, and live like kings in a palatial mansion in an idealistic suburb is one which has to be commended for being unique and interesting.
When Downsizing is exploring the “science” and the concept itself, is when it is most interesting, and the first half hour or so is really solid. It establishes its tone, the science feels genuine and believable, and the characters of Paul and Audrey Safranek, played by Matt Damon and Kristen Wiig respectively, are given ample introduction. There is then a turning point, which it would not be fair to spoil, in which the rug is well and truly pulled from underneath your feet and everything that follows is much harder to get on board with. It is perhaps worth mentioning at this point, Kristen Wiig is barely in this film; there is a very good reason why she only gets the “and” at the tail-end of the actor credits in the trailer.
From the moment she is no longer part of this film and the story, Downsizing starts on a downward spiral of confusing messages, muddled ideologies, and downright offensive stereotypes; something which was incredibly unexpected and didn’t seem in keeping at all with what the film had initially promised to be. It undoubtedly has some really big ideas – if you’ll pardon the expression – but it never feels entirely convinced in which message it is trying to make the most important.
It unsurprisingly deals a lot with issues on the environment; the wastefulness of humans is what has lead to this need to “downsize” in the first place. Whilst it becomes more and more heavy-handed with this issue, had this been the main thing it had been driving, it would’ve perhaps been a little more palatable.
Where Downsizing veers wildly into unexpectedly offensive territories, is the haphazard way in which it presents the divide between the “rich” and the “poor” in the new shrunken society known as “Leisureworld”. It is extremely noticeable that the nice suburbs of the utopia are full of white, middle-class people, and as is explored later, the slums and run-down areas which are in fact outside the safe confines of Leisureworld’s walls, are mostly inhabited by Latinos, Asians, and other minorities. Had the film been a bit more considered in its approach, and tackled the unfairness of wealth distribution and the huge gap between the most wealthy, and those living in poverty, then perhaps it could’ve been forgiven. If it was trying to make a point, it did a really poor job of getting this across.
It is, however, with the treatment of the character Ngoc Lan Tran (played by Hong Chau) that the film truly hits rock-bottom. Speaking in broken English which is entirely played for laughs, this has to be one of the worst, and most offensive Asian stereotypes in a film for a long, long time. No fault of the actress though, but this character (because of the way she was treated by the script), felt entirely extraneous.
The rest of the cast do an amicable job, all things considered. Matt Damon doesn’t have to do a whole lot, but he proves he does have great comic timing once again, and there are some genuinely funny moments involving his character. Christoph Waltz, who officially steals every film he is in, shows up to do…well it isn’t entirely clear what, but he is very watchable at least, and if there ever was an award for scenery-chewing, they should just inscribe his name on it indefinitely!
Whilst not without merit, Downsizing sadly fails to make full use of its truly wonderful and unique concept. It feels overlong, bloated, and overstuffed with far too many undercooked ideas, which is a real shame, especially given how much promise it showed. Still, there are certainly enjoyable moments, at least initially anyway, and for the effects, concept, and impressive (miniature) world building, it is worth a watch.