Downsizing fails to reach the heights of Alexander Payne’s previous work

Director Alexander Payne’s latest film Downsizing is a science fiction comedy-drama offering people the chance to shrink down and live in a miniature world in order to reduce waste thus saving the environment while also giving the participants a better lifestyle. However, do all good things really come in small packages? You might need to downsize your expectations for this one.

Physio Therapist Paul, played by Matt Damon, and his wife Audrey, Kristen Wiig, discover that downsizing would enable them to live a lavish lifestyle – their $100,000 savings would become $12 million in the downsized world. It all seems too good to miss so they abandon their stressed lives and sign up to becoming five inches tall in a choice that triggers a life-changing adventure of unprecedentedly boring proportions. So, will they live happily ever after in LeisureLand?

Despite the promise of an interesting concept and intriguing trailers, don’t go into this film thinking you are going to see a heartfelt drama, well-addressed political satire or hilarious comedy because it is none of these things. This film sadly fails to utilize its great concept and live up to even some of its potential. With a very unfocused narrative, the film continuously misses opportunities for both comedy and satire and the script manages to lack any sense of tension. Though the film does bring up some questions about what would happen politically, economically and socially, there is no real deep analysis and every time you think it might be going somewhere it ends up merely skimming the surface.

The main cast does their best with what they are given but when a script lacks both depth and good dialog, there’s only so much Matt Damon or Christoph Waltz can do. Damon is fine as Paul, a mild-mannered and bland character that just like the film lacks any substance and it’s hard to find an emotional connection or even care about what is happening. Christoph Waltz gives a good comedic performance as aging Serbian party boy Dušan, but nothing is enough to save this dire film. Hong Chau plays Damon’s Downsized love interest, a Vietnamese activist shrunk against her will by her government. Chau performance as the moral compass is ok but felt somewhat stereotypical.

There is an outstanding supporting cast in this movie with some well-known faces including Kristen Wiig, Neil Patrick Harris, Laura Dern, and Jason Sudeikis who all make very brief appearances. This impressive cast is understandable as acting in an Alexander Payne project would be attractive going by his previous work like the outstanding Election, About Schmidt, Sideways, and The Descendants. I thought that Payne’s film could have been the new Truman Show or a big screen Black Mirror but is nothing but a boring version of The Borrowers that only makes you feel sorry for all the great actors who had the misfortune to appear in this film.

The film is marketed as a mainstream comedy when in fact it wants to be a smart satire – it is neither. I only wish Downsizing had been shrunk right down to two seconds rather than the two-plus hours of my life I can’t get back.

Reviewed by Ian Wright

2 stars