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Film Review: Downsizing

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Downsizing is director Alexander Payne’s high-concept satire that asks us what the world would be like if people could be shrunk down to five inches in height.

Credit: CNET

Unfortunately, what the film presents instead is an overly obvious, message-filled bore that you’d be best off avoiding.

The film follows middle-aged Paul Safranek (Matt Damon) who decides, with his wife Audrey (Kristen Wiig), to shrink himself down to five inches tall, in a process called downsizing so that they can have a fresh start in life. However, not everything goes to plan and before long Paul finds himself at the heart of events that seem to concern the future of the world.

Downsizing's odd concept had a lot of potential and for the first act at least we see it mostly fulfilled. Despite its absurdity, watching the process of Paul and Audrey prepare to be downsized is pretty interesting, as are the effects downsizing has on the world overall, with a clear social and political divide emerging between big people and small. We also see the quirky way in which people would practically be downsized, and the sequence that shows this process is definitely one of the film's more enjoyable. Despite being accompanied by some very ham-fisted satire then, this first chunk of the film is mostly entertaining.

However, as soon as Paul enters Leisureworld, one of a number of living areas for small people, the film begins to painfully drag. It feels like we’re simply watching a series of uninteresting events that ultimately amount to nothing significant being accomplished by anyone. Whilst with some films this structure is what gives it some charm, with Downsizing it just results in boredom and disappointment as both the characters and the plot, are entirely unrewarding.

Having started with such potential, the film completely drops the ball and becomes more concerned with spoon-feeding the audience both tiresome environmental messages and painfully obvious social satire. It also loses the main quirk of following small people once it focuses on Paul living in Leisureworld as now that everyone’s the same size, the film is presented just like any other sub-standard drama. The occasional appearance of a giant bottle of vodka doesn't save Downsizing from the fact that its characters and story just aren’t up to scratch.

There are also some very strange choices regarding Downsizing's main characters. Christoph Waltz is surprisingly uncharismatic here in the terrible role of Dusan Mirkovic, who remains a detestable figure from start to finish. Strange also is the Vietnamese character of Ngoc Lan Tran. Despite being played well by Hong Chau, Ngoc’s stereotyped accent and broken English is often used for laughs throughout the film, and in no instance does it come off as funny. Whilst this shouldn't take away from the fact that Ngoc is probably the film’s best character, her blatant stereotyping is a massive distraction for all the wrong reasons.

Unfortunately, Downsizing is a disappointment overall. Alexander Payne takes what is an interesting concept and fills it up with a whole load of nothing. Despite a couple of decent performances and an enjoyable first act, the film’s on-the-nose satire and lack of meaningful events mean it's ultimately a let-down.

Downsizing is out now, distributed by Paramount.

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