Film review by Jason Day of the comedy Downsizing, starring Matt Damon and Christoph Waltz as two humans who shrink themselves as part of a global bid to halt the human environmental imprint on the planet.
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As the planet groans under the multiple demands created by its billions of people, Norwegian scientists hit upon a safe method of shrinking humans to only a few inches in height.
Desperate for a new life with more money, suburbanite Occupational Therapist Paul (Matt Damon) and his depressed wife Audrey (Kristen Wiig) sign-up to be shrunk and live life as millionaires in Leisure Land, a paradise new-town where small people live in perpetual sunshine and never need to work.
When Audrey bolts at the last minute, Paul is left to create a new life for himself, helped and hindered by the people he meets, including rowdy neighbour Dusan (Christoph Waltz).
Review, by Jason Day
Whether big or small, life throws the same problems at you. How you deal with them defines who you are.
Such is the premise of iconoclastic writer-director Alexander Payne’s bright and funny satirical take on the modern day fads and modes humans employ to cure the problems their existence poses the planet.
Reducing himself to a mere 5 inches in height, our hero Damon finds that his wife is still an unlovable, self-absorbed mess, jilting him at eleventh hour as they prepare for the process that will reinvigorate their lives. People still pronounce his surname incorrectly, neighbours are still a pain in the ass and, despite the lofty PR that Leisure Land is the place of plenty, we quickly find out that the social divisions of big America are still there, with a slum settlement just outside the walls encircling Leisure Land.
Payne has form for producing satires that are light, even glib, on the surface but with penetrating insights into the human condition underneath (Election, Sideways and the superb Nebraska that saw Payne receive an Oscar nomination for Best Director).
Payne and co-wrier Jim Taylor forgo musing on answers to the social, political and environmental questions they pose during this film. A good approach, as they ask many, especially during the film’s yawningly slow first 40 minutes.
Sidestepping any cloying sermonising or ‘messaging’ they opt instead for grand whimsy, with soaring wish fulfilment fantasy mixed with tear-inducing thwarted romance and, yes, some expansive academic speeches.
This film is quite long, over two hours, but a reel or two could easily have been pruned at the start, especially with the many scenes of Paul at work. And, to note, Occupational Therapist colleagues of mine have noted that OT’s do a lot more than prescribe massage for people and some rest from work.
Damon and Wiig seem a little uneasy with each other, fitting considering how their characters have had enough not just of their torpid lives, but each other.
Waltz, as so often happens, literally brings this film to life. Its no coincidence that the film only glows to life when he appears on the screen. Gloriously over-accented as Dusan, Paul’s noisy Euro-party neighbour, it is a perfectly outrageous, pantomime performance that simply makes the film.
Also impressive is Thai actress Hong Chau as Ngoc, the Vietnamese environmental activist shrunk as a punishment by her home authorities. Chau impressively belies her characters brittleness with outward displays of brusqueness, delivered in stunning blunt one-liners, observations and orders to smitten Damon.
Her declaration of love, as she tries to understand ‘what type of fuck’ Damon gave her when they slept together, spoken in beguilingly broken English, is heart-breaking and unflinchingly honest.
Cast & credits
Director: Alexander Payne. Paramount/Ad Hominem Enterprises/Annapurna Pictures. (15)
Producers: Jim Burke, Megan Ellison, Mark Johnson, Alexander Payne, Jim Taylor.
Writers: Alexander Payne, Jim Taylor.
Camera: Phedon Papamichael.
Music: Rolfe Kent.
Sets: Stefania Cella.
Matt Damon, Christoph Waltz, Hong Chau, Kristen Wiig, Rolf Lassgard, Ingjergd Egeberg, Udo Kier, James Van Der Beek, Neil Patrick Harris, Laura Dern, Mary Kay Place.