Part of director Alexander Payne’s charm is the adamant refusal of his movies to move in any particular direction. His latest, Downsizing, almost seems to proceed of its own accord; after a first act of setup, it sort of goes where it does. There is no way to anticipate the final stop before arrival.
The 400-Word Review: Downsizing
By Sean Collier
January 1, 2018
For some — admittedly, myself included — this can be a confounding aspect of the idiosyncratic filmmaker’s work. In Downsizing, though, it works well enough.
A team of scientists has devised technology by which living creatures can be harmlessly shrunk to a tiny fraction of their original size, about the height of a pencil. Its creators see this miracle as an chance to save the planet; simply shrink everyone and start using a tiny fraction of the resources. The primary appeal, however, is economic: If you only need 1/20th of the stuff, early adopters will only have to spend 1/20th of the cash. Regular folks of modest means are able to retire, sell their big stuff and have more than enough cash to live on; they just have to be tiny.
The procedure sounds appealing to a going-nowhere couple (Matt Damon and Kristen Wiig) when a former classmate (Jason Sudeikis) turns up tiny at a high-school reunion. While this isn’t exactly a movie that would be disrupted by spoilers, there’s one big turn coming, so I won’t explain more than that.
This first segment — unpacking the ramifications of the technology — is brilliant speculative fiction, as Payne reasons out the day-to-day changes and practical impacts of small-ification on the world (typified by a scene where a drunk bar patron advocates denying the right to vote to small people). When it takes a serious turn late and becomes a remarkably different movie — so different that you will fully forget these characters are lilliputian — you’ll either be on board or you won’t.
Aside from the pleasant, wide-eyed direction, the performances will easily anchor you even if the direction of the film isn’t quite to your taste. Damon — his own efforts to sabotage this film through a disastrous media tour notwithstanding — is charming and relatable, and Wiig plays notes she hasn’t previously. Hong Chau, Christoph Waltz and Udo Kier add heft to the roster. Like all of Payne’s works, Downsizing is a curious film — but also a very likable one.
My Rating: 8/10
Sean Collier is the Associate Editor of Pittsburgh Magazine and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Read more from Sean at pittsburghmagazine.com/afterdark