Despite its initial promise, DOWNSIZING ultimately fails to leave a lasting impression

Matt Damon, Jason Sudeikis, Maribeth Monroe, and Kristen Wiig in Downsizing (2017)

Despite its intriguing concept and initial promise, DOWNSIZING ultimately fails to leave a lasting impression

With the average population increasing at estimated an 83 million people per year, overpopulation remains a serious threat to the future of mankind. But what if, instead of attempting to reduce the number of people, we literally reduced the people? This is the premise of Alexander Payne’s new film DOWNSIZING.

Payne’s first foray into science fiction tells the story Paul Safranek (Matt Damon) and his wife Audrey (Kristen Wiig), a Omaha couple who decide to undertake a newly-invented procedure to shrink their bodies to five inches tall so they can start a new life in an experimental community. The real attraction in becoming small isn’t that you consume less, it’s that you can have a whole lot more. Compared with their regular-size lives of poor incomes, compromised dreams and diminished expectations, downsizing promises luxury, abundance, wealth and splendour. But when his wife refuses the procedure at the last minute, Paul finds himself unexpectedly alone in Leisureland, forcing him to reassess his life and his choices.

Smart, funny and original, DOWNSIZING is an ambitious and entertaining satire movie that initially shows lots of promise. The film’s fantastic opening act sees Payne and co-writer Jim Taylor take the intriguing concept and deliver it in an authentic and plausible way, as well as raising some interesting societal questions along the way.

Using CGI to transition from big to small, Payne and his creative team do a fantastic job of creating a world in which people really do feel small. There are plenty of clever visual touches and the shrinking sequence in particular, stands out for its sheer inventiveness and humour.

But just as DOWNSIZING starts to settle in nicely, the film starts to shrink before our eyes. Amping up the ridiculousness to a whole new level, Payne and Taylor take the concept to the very edges of extrapolation. As Paul’s journey starts to turn sour, nagging questions begin to intrude and the plot and characters starts to lose direction.

Matt Damon and Jason Sudeikis in Downsizing (2017)

Contributing to this is the disappointing use of the fine cast. While Matt Damon delivers a strong performance as regular-guy Paul, his passivity and affability carrying the movie through at a leisurely rhythm, fellow actors Wigg, Sudeikis and Margo Martindale get short shrift. In fact, the only actor aside from Damon who receives some decent screen time is Christoph Waltz as Paul’s extravagant neighbour, Dusan (pronounced Douche-an) and even his character is half-realised. Hong Chau, also takes on a questionable character as but thankfully pulls it off with style, humour and grace, stealing the show as Ngoc Lan Tran.

But the real disappointment lies in the film’s social commentary. DOWNSIZING has the potential to be a really impactful satirical film but Payne tries to comment on too many things without saying enough about anything. From global warming to social class and wealth distribution, the film’s political message fast becomes muddled and ultimately lacks the emotional impact it should have.

That said, the concept is fascinating, the writing is sharp and witty and Payne does a fantastic job of delivering it in an interesting and creative way. Shame then that DOWNSIZING doesn’t leave enough of a lasting impression to make it truly memorable.

3 out of 5 stars

DOWNSIZING is released in UK cinemas on 24 January 2018.