Downsizing Movie Review
Matt Damon needs to read scripts before accepting projects going forward. The generally reliable actor has had a bad year (save for a great cameo), starring in two critically panned flops - The Great Wall and Suburbicon - and now Downsizing, a movie that isn’t as bad as it is maddeningly flat.
Downsizing is the new movie from Alexander Payne, the equally reliable director behind such films as Election, Sideways and The Descendants, but if there is one phrase that describes this latest piece of work, it’s “missed potential.”
The movie has a fantastic premise: in an effort to reduce humanity’s environmental impact, scientists develop a way to shrink people to a fraction of their original size. Because of their small footprint on the world, the benefit to “downsizing” is also financial; people who scraped by before are rich in the various miniature communities that start popping up around the world.
But Downsizing doesn’t do much with such an amazing concept. Payne is unable to tap into the heartbeat of the idea; his film has no pulse. That’s not entirely - the first half is entertaining enough as we follow Matt Damon through the shrinkage process and are introduced to a new, miniature world. When Payne overtly goes for comedy he’s able to evoke some laughter, and he dots his film with enough odd little things to make the adventure worth it for a time.
But as soon as he wraps around to his message, Downsizing flounders. I’m fairly environmental, but Payne takes his film in such a heavy-handed, ultimately lame direction that it’s actually quite confounding no one stopped him. Let’s be clear: the reason people may go to this movie is because Matt Damon gets downsized and has to adjust to a new life of being small. No one - repeat, no one - are actively spending their money to go and watch the boring shit that happens in the second half.
While Downsizing would have played best as a straight up comedy, as a social commentary Payne could have gone in so many more interesting directions than the one we’re stuck with. Why are all the housecleaners still Mexicans? What if, when downsized, class constructs got reversed or mixed? Do small people now look down on large people? The opposite? Or what if the government actively encourages and incentivizes poor people to downsize to reduce their tax burden?
And most importantly, what happens when a bird or squirrel inevitably gets inside the downsized community?
As the movie goes limp, the actors do, too. Damon’s character is as bland as they come, and he becomes downright obnoxiously stupid as the story progresses. He has absolutely no chemistry with Hong Chau, who gives a fierce if potentially offensive performance that seems to be going for laughs but isn’t not at all funny. But if there is anyone who is more emblematic of the bipolar nature of the film it’s Christoph Waltz, who splashes onto the screen with enthusiasm and gusto in all the ways you’d expect from Christoph Waltz, but quickly devolves into an uninteresting, uncharismatic bore who wanders around questioning why he is still a part of the story at all (seriously, watch him in the third act and ask why he’s still hanging around).
Downsizing isn’t terrible - it has some funny parts, and one joke near the very end lands very well (the exact kind of thing that Payne needed to utilize throughout) - and less fickle audiences will find it amusing enough, but there’s no denying that the movie falls far short of expectations and potential.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.