Downsizing. A Review
We made it y'all, 2018 is here and we still have not been wiped out by arctic methane emissions or that zombie apocalypse the internet is so obsessed about. While we wait to be decimated we have to be entertained and what better way to kick off the new year than with a movie. For my first review of 2018 I went with Downsizing, Alexander Payne's newest satire starring Matt Damon.
Downsizing tells the story of Paul Safranek, a man in search of a way to leave his mark on the world while staying as comfortable and safe as possible. When a Norwegian research lab finds a way to shrink humans, among other things, to a fraction of it's current size with no obvious side effects, Paul and his wife Audrey give the idea strong consideration. While the main purpose for downsizing is to start to relieve the Earth from some of humanity's carbon footprint, there are also the far more enticing features such as the favorable monetary exchange rate and getting to live in leisure for the rest of their lives.
Not until after he has had the procedure done does Paul think about the downsides of downsizing, as one character says something to the effect of "Downsizing is great, unless you are poor, then you are just poor AND small.". It is then that Paul must reevaluate his life and true desires to try and make it in a world that is worse than the one he left.
Alexander Payne has had quite a bit of success over his 20+ year career earning himself 3 Academy Award nominations for direction and 3 for writing, winning twice for Sideways(2004) and The Descendants(2011). His 1999 satire, Election is probably my favorite work of his and is a movie that can be enjoyed by anyone, no matter what side of the political isle you walk and Payne is able to hit that bone again with Downsizing. While a bit less overtly comedic as Election, Downsizing tells a full story from start to finish. The satire is subtle but sharp and while there is a bit of a lull in the second act for the most part Downsizing is entertaining.
One of the key aspects of Downsizing is for the filmmakers to get the viewer to not only buy into the idea that Downsizing is plausible, but to get them to think long and hard about weather or not they would do it. I found myself spending about the first 30o minutes of this movie pondering this exact thing and found myself, like Paul and Audrey, thinking more of the lavish life and freedom to live without concern rather than the humanitarian aspect. Great job of world building from Payne and his writing partner Jim Taylor.
2017 was a rough year for Matt Damon, Suburbicon was one of the most disappointing releases of the year and The Great Wall was easily one of the worst. He felt out of place in both roles and really struggled to make either movie better, if anything he probably made them worse. Downsizing sees Damon return to his best self as an innately relatable but ultimately flawed. You want to see Paul overcome his issues in this movie and you feel for him when he has a setback. This is how you properly use Matt Damon, not by sticking him in Song Dynasty era China or as a secret villain and racist.
While Downsizing has a pretty solid cast surrounding Damon featuring Kristen Wiig, Jason Sudeikis and Christoph Waltz the real gem in the supporting category is Vietnamese actress Hong Chau. While she has had roles in movies and TV before Downsizing seems to be her first big role and boy does she shine. Her character comes in about halfway through the movie, but she comes at a critical time just as the plot is starting to fall a bit flat. Chau adds a great deal of comedy to the movie but also brings this outside look at the world of Downsizing and gives the viewer another way to look at the whole thing.
Alexander Payne as stated before is an accomplished director being nominated twice by the academy for Best Director. At first the whole five inch tall people in relation to full size humans felt mishandled, there was an obvious separation between the actors and I blamed the director for screwing up an all important piece of immersion. I mean come on, Peter Jackson figured this out over a decade ago making Lord of the Rings. Thinking back I don't think Payne ever wanted the interactions and comparisons between the normal sized people and the downsized ones to feel natural.
I really do think he intended for there to be some awkwardness between the two, even if he had to force the issue using the camera. Other than that one perceved slip up Payne directs this movie fantastically and seems to hit all the right buttons. When Peter first gets shrunk all of the shots are seemingly showing how impossibly large and out of place everything feels, but by the end of the movie you almost forget that the apartment building they are driving up to is actually a small trailer. Payne may not be as flashy or as talented as some of the best in the business, but he sure does know how to make a movie and make it right.
Downsizing is not a movie that will be bringing home bundles of awards(although Hong Chau was nominated for a Golden Globe for her role) or a ton of money but those things are not what make a movie good or bad. Payne did not make this movie to be an Oscar hopeful or a box office smash, it was a cool idea and lent itself well to cinema. I was not blown away by Downsizing but it was a real solid movie that does a lot of things right. If we can get a few more movies to reach the quality of Downsizing this year and a few less that settle for Suburbicon level, 2018 may just be a little better than 2017.