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Downsizing (A Movie Review)

Updated: Nov 10, 2023



Starring Matt Damon, Christoph Waltz, Hong Chau, Kristen Wiig, Udo Kier, Rolf Lassgård, Ingjerd Egeberg, James Van Der Beek, Jason Sudeikis, Neil Patrick Harris, Laura Dern, Niecy Nash, Kerry Kenney, Maribeth Monroe, Don Lake, Margo Martindale, Brigitte Lundy-Paine, Joaquim de Almeida, Phil Reeves, Ana Marie Cox, Roland Martin, Don Lake and Mary Kay Place.

Screenplay by Alexander Payne & Jim Taylor.

Directed by Alexander Payne.

Distributed by Paramount Pictures. 135 minutes. Rated R.

Alexander Payne only puts out a movie every few years, and most of them are Oscar caliber, so you want to give a movie the benefit of the doubt when his name appears on it.

After all, he is on quite a hot streak. His last three films as a director (Nebraska, The Descendants, Sideways) were all nominated for Best Picture. The three films he directed before that (About Schmidt, Election, Citizen Ruth) are pretty much just as good, though I personally have always felt Election was a little over-rated.

In fact, the only film that he ever made which was an out-and-out failure was co-writing the Adam Sandler/Kevin James comedy I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry. And even that script has been completely disowned by Payne, who says that Sandler and company took every bit of him out of the script and left it an incoherent mess.

So, despite the very odd concept behind it, I had high hopes for Payne’s latest film, Downsizing, a dark-social comedy about a world where people are willing to be shrunk down to five inches tall to live in the lap of luxury in tiny McMansion doll houses.

Downsizing has some intriguing ideas, some fascinating characters (particularly a Vietnamese cleaning woman played by Hong Chau), and yet it doesn’t really work. Payne never quite decides whether he wants to make the film into a comedy or a pointed political statement, and it ends up not quite working on either level. It’s an interesting attempt, but eventually a flawed one. And the final third of the film, which had been perking along quite decently, is an incoherent mess on the level Payne has not visited since Chuck & Larry.

However, before this veer into incoherence, Downsizing, while not exactly good, was at least intriguing. The problem is a pretty simple one, I think. The concept is just too goofy to take seriously, and while there are some funny bits, Payne appears mostly to be taking it very seriously.

It’s not a coincidence that Downsizing is most enjoyable in the first third of the film, in which Payne is playing with the comic aspects of the situation. However, when the film becomes more earnest – exploring the class structure of the tiny world – it starts to spin out of control. Still, it was fairly interesting in this part as well. But, by the time they make a side trip in a tiny boat on a river to a small commune in remote New Zealand (which honestly feels like it would be physically impossible at their sizes), the film has pretty much completely lost its way.

Downsizing is an Alexander Payne movie, so it is going to have some very good parts, and parts that make you think. In the long run, the movie is something of an interesting failure – particularly in comparison to the rest of Payne’s body of work. Still, you have to give the guy credit for pushing the envelope. Better luck next time.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2018 All rights reserved. Posted: March 20, 2018.


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