Quick Hit: Frustrating because it has shades of greatness throughout.
Alexander Payne has given us one of the most frustrating things as a reviewer. A film that is both ambitious and small (no pun intended), but also pivots maddeningly from plotline to plotline, leaving interesting characters and other aspects in the dust. The film is both good and bad, which of course, ends with a final balance of slightly above average (come on guys, it is sci-fi after all).
Downsizing is first concerned about the different impacts on a world that is changed by a giant technological advancement – we have the ability to irreversibly shrink people down. This then allows us to maximize the resources on the planet. However, there are numerous reasons different people may choose (or choose not to) shrink down, and at times, this may preclude people. The movie goes on to say some interesting things about the environment and the socioeconomic status of minority groups, but… unfortunately, there’s a lot of other stuff going on.
The film primarily follows Paul Safranek (Matt Damon) as he makes the decision to “get small”. It then follows his life as he adjusts to several life events that occur. But rather than continuing the focus of what it started, the film continually pivots and focuses on the whiniest aspects of Safranek’s personality. Despite being set aside with firecracker Ngoc Lan Tran, a survivor of an atrocity, Safranek continues to just be ultimately full of himself. It robs the movie of even his turnaround, as he’s still just a generally unlikeable character. Christoph Waltz also shows up as Safranek’s overhead neighbor Dusan Mirkovic (and smuggler of sorts), and while he continues to be as great as normal, his weirdness goes wasted at times.
The film’s cinematography is very good, as expected if you’ve seen Sideways. There’s some particular shots of the fjords and valleys that are extremely poetic and beautiful. There’s also a really creative scene involving the actual shrinking process that’s shows what this movie could have been. Set to a wonderful score, the film comes across more like a musical in this brief scene in the way everything is prepared and the score crescendos. It’s probably my favorite scene in the entire film… but it seems out of place with the rest of it. There’s another scene that similarly feels cut out from the rest, and that’s regarding Paul ingesting a drug that sends the entire thing psychedelic. While I’m not opposed to this, I was a bit confused as to the inclusion of it.
In conclusion, Downsizing frustrated me as much as I enjoyed parts of it. I can only give it a “C+” in good conscience. It's biggest issue is its lack of a desire to focus on any one thing, instead doing only an adequate job at establishing characters, rules,, and motivations. There is humor and drama and fear, but not enough of any of them. It's an entire movie of mediocrity.
For more on this film, check out IMDB.
"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"