Downsizing (2017) **

January 23rd, 2018
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir: Alexander Payne | Wri: Jim Taylor | USA / 135’ | cast: Matt Damon, Christoph Waltz, Hong Chau, Kristen Wiig

Matt Damon headlines a cast that includes Kristen Wiig, Christoph Waltz, and Laura Dern in Alexander Payne’s unconvincing sci-fi social satire about a man who chooses to shrink himself (literally) to simplify his life.

Shot in Toronto the magnificent Norwegian fjords, Downsizing provides a startlingly speculative and outlandish Sci-fi adventure that sounds intriguing on the drawing board but throws up issues that are unattractive and downright unpalatable in practiceAs the film opens, Damon’s amiable character Paul Safranek is hit with a brainwave – downsizing not only his family home – but also himself – will cut costs as his placidly mediocre lifestyle with wife Audrey (Wiig) rapidly becomes increasingly difficult to sustain, let alone finance. Payne widens to premise to include themes of human consumption and depletion of the Earth’s precious reserves with one radical and idiotic solution – miniaturisation, the idea being that a small tin of baked beans can suddenly feed the entire family for a whole week (living in a shoebox in their previous garden). Welcome to the grotesque future of Downsizing, where a wet-wipe will suddenly become an environmental hazard of even greater proportions. Once Paul is reinvented as a midget, there’s something unpleasantly grotesque and indelicate about the whole idea of giant rosebuds and diamonds as big as your head. The phrase “small and perfectly-formed” also loses appeal especially in the pastel world of Paul Safranek. There’s nothing glorious or admirable about his insipid existence as a phone salesman in the new “Leisureland”, where even he takes offence at a customer who says: “Don’t get short with me”. Meanwhile, his rather uncouth neighbours (Christophe Waltz and Udo Kier) feel too far-fetched and glib to make this new existence appealing; a better word would be ‘sad’. There could be some really appealing aspects to Payne’s thoughtful projection, but somehow he and co-writer Jim Taylor settle for a mediocre, mealy-mouthed and small-minded drama rather than a bitingly witty microcosmic satire, along the lines of previous features Sideways, About Schmidt and Nebraska. And given that most of us are already tired of the relentlessly onward march of digital technology and the dehumanisation of our daily lives, the idea that this could be taken further simply has no future in the real world. Thanks Mr Payne, but no thanks. MT


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