Downsizing movie review: Alexander Payne’s new film, starring Matt Damon and Christoph Waltz, is way ahead of its time and can divide visitors, but it’s among the best films of the year.
Director – Alexander Payne
Solid – Matt Damon, Hong Chau, Kristen Wiig, Christoph Waltz, Jason Sudeikis, Neil Patrick Harris, Laura Dern
Ranking – 4.5/5
Often, while watching a movie, it could shock you with an instant of absolute clearness – maybe it’s a line of dialogue, a field, or a little of music – which makes you question if it was a fluke. The cynicism is understandable because, even as we can all concur, moments like this are rarer than an understated Nicolas Cage performance.
However, this isn’t a thought that will mix your mind during Downsizing, the new movie by one of the best possible living American filmmakers, Alexander Payne. From the movie that offers, by my admittedly shaky estimation, at least one idea of pure, unshackled brilliance every 10 minutes. After a point — I’d say it comes during a particularly jaw-dropping twist at the end of the first work — you’re either going to feel massively cheated, or you’re going to be convinced you’re witnessing a work of genius.
Downsizing imagines a world of the future in which one thoroughly Scandinavian scientist (dishevelled, bespectacled, over weight, blonde) invents something that is described as “a larger package than the moon getting.” He creates a gizmo that, following the pull of your lever and the drive of handful of buttons, can reduce the size of organic matter on a mobile level. If this were a ’50s Ed Lumber movie, we’d be dialling his invention a ‘shrink ray’. So he issues the thing at himself and 36 other ‘brave volunteers,’ and together, they become the world’s first small community.
Which is where Matt Damon will come in. He plays the person who used to have dreams but because of some misfortune (and a crippling lack of ambition) never acquired around to attaining them. Like millions of others like him, he’d seen the Scandinavian scientist’s demonstration on TV years ago. And like an incredible number of others who’ve witnessed similar remarkable inventions on Television screens over time – from self-driving vehicles to virtual actuality – he pondered if it would ever turn into a mass reality.
Soon, ‘heading small’ emerges as a lifestyle choice. Areas of five-inch-tall people crop up from coast to coast, settlements that boast negligible criminal offenses rates and across-the-board pleasure. Posters advocating the benefits of ‘downsizing’ pop up – by minimizing yourself in size, you lessen your carbon footprint; you create less waste materials, you eat up fewer resources, and more enticingly, if you’re five inches tall, even “a diamond necklace set in platinum” won’t cost greater than a $100.
Egged on by a vintage acquaintance who’d downsized more due to a mid-life problems than any particular affinity for conserving the planet, Damon’s figure, Paul, decides to take the leap. A farewell party is organised, friends bet teary goodbyes, investments are liquidated and most of Paul’s tooth are removed. Five hours later, he’s welcomed to Leisureland, the most attractive of most neighborhoods for small people.
Downsizing will be divisive, without doubt. It’s the sort of movie that constantly helps to keep reinventing itself every thirty minutes — it should go from low-key funny to high-concept satire to full-blown research fiction; it has the sheen of a major budget Hollywood tent-pole but the spirit of, well, an Alexander Payne movie.
For those not really acquainted with his work, Payne’s films are small-scale satires about associations – fathers and sons (Nebraska), fathers and daughters (The Descendants), best friends (Sideways), a good retiree and his implemented Tanzanian child (About Schmidt). They all feature pretty successful white men who’ve just realised that life is long and unpleasant and can only be improved by the recklessly impulsive decision.
Downsizing is irrefutably his most ambitious film yet. Ironically for a movie whose central character is really as big (or small, depending on your philosophy of life) as a can of Coke, the ideas he presents are a few of the largest he has ever before tackled – sustainability, course, prejudice, and the very nature of life.
One short picture in particular, aboard a bus segregated into two halves – one for the small and the other for the ‘normal’ people – is stunningly evocative. How could it not be?
And with the appearance of Ngoc Lan – a Vietnamese dissident shrunk against her will by her authorities, who’d illegally joined Leisureland in the FedEx bundle – the movie makes yet another vivid diversion from where it seemed like it was going. As played out by Hong Chau, it’s the film’s most fantastic performance which requires it (and Paul) towards a more grandiose summary than anyone would’ve expected. Even utopias, he learns, need someone to do the dirty work. There’s always someone to clean the puke off the ground after a rave and almost always there is you to definitely be waved away when they tackle you with a tray of food. Sometimes, that someone can be a daring young dissident who should have been writing books and showing up on television.
Downsizing is the type of movie that will only improve with years, when lots of the ideas it imagines become reality. Right now, it’s before its time, understandably declined by followers (and in an unbelievable betrayal, also by the critics). They have to opt for on someone their own size.
Watch the Downsizing truck here