The 400-Word Review: Downsizing
By Sean Collier
January 1, 2018
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.
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