Review: Big ideas but small returns in Downsizing

Matt Adcock reviews Downsizing (15)

Udo Kier as Konrad, Christoph Waltz as Dusan Mirkovic, Hong Chau as Ngoc Lan Tran and Matt Damon as Paul Safranek
Udo Kier as Konrad, Christoph Waltz as Dusan Mirkovic, Hong Chau as Ngoc Lan Tran and Matt Damon as Paul Safranek

Downsizing is an odd film and hard to put in a genre. The trailer makes it looks like comedic social satire with dark edges but the actual film is a preachy meditation on the dangers of us humans not being nice to each other or our planet.

The inventive plot revolves around the potentially world saving scientific gimmick that allows humans to be shrunk in size to about four inches and live their lives in tiny communities which massively reduce the drain on the planetary resources. The selling point for ‘going small’ is that you get way more for your money as huge mansions, jewellery and other luxuries are relatively cheap on a micro level so even those on moderate incomes can live like little millionaires.

Paul Safranek (Matt Damon) is your average guy, unsatisfied with life and struggling to pay for a new home so he and his wife agree to the take the downsizing plunge. We get to follow Paul’s odyssey as he comes to terms with humanitarian issues along with personal ones.

By chance he meets political dissident Ngoc (Hong Chau) and through her learns some big life lessons. The two actors certainly share some great chemistry throughout which drives the film, even when the moralising message threatens to bog down the plot.

Director Alexander Payne has created a film that if you can give it a chance will provoke you to think hard about the world we live in, society in general and your part in it all. It doesn’t always work and the climax feels slapped on unnecessarily but it is always welcome to see filmmakers taking risks with ‘out there’ ideas.

One lesser subplot features Paul’s dodgy neighbour Dusan (Christoph Waltz) and his slimy pal Konrad (Udo Kier) who live like kings thanks to their illicit import business. It feels like padding and sits uneasily with the wider story arc.

Overall though Downsizing is an emotionally charged sci-fi satire which starts with a crowd pleasing half hour that would have been a great Black Mirror episode but then morphs into a much more solemn tragedy-cum-romance.

There are some small pleasures to had but it requires investment.