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Downsizing Movie Review

Downsizing (2017) movie poster Downsizing

Theatrical Release: December 22, 2017 / Running Time: 135 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Alexander Payne / Writers: Alexander Payne, Jim Taylor

Cast: Matt Damon (Paul Safranek), Kristen Wiig (Audrey Safranek), Christoph Waltz (Dusan Mirkovic), Hong Chau (Ngoc Lan Tran), Udo Kier (Joris Konrad), Jason Sudeikis (Dave Johnson), Neil Patrick Harris (Jeff Lonowski), Laura Dern (Laura Lonowski), Rolf Lassgård (Dr. Jorgen Asbjørnsen), Ingjerd Egeberg (Anne-Helene Asbjørnsen), Søren Pilmark (Dr. Andreas Jacobsen), Jayne Houdyshell (Paul's Mother), Maribeth Monroe (Carol Johnson), Phil Reeves (Audrey's Dad Larry), James Van Der Beek (Anesthesiologist), Allison J. Palmer (Anesthesiologist's Wife), Timothy Edmund Driscoll (Good Friend Tim), Kristen Thomson (Good Friend Gina), Kevin Patrick Kunkel (Buddy Kevin), Patrick Gallagher (Drunk Guy at Bar), Niecy Nash (Leisureland Salesperson), Margo Martindale (Woman on Shuttle), Kerri Kenney (Single Mom Kristen), Mary Kay Place (Land's End Customer)


The last three feature films Alexander Payne has directed -- Sideways, The Descendants, and Nebraska -- have been nominated for Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director,
and Best Screenplay. It's pretty reasonable to enter Downsizing with expectations of further greatness. It requires an absolute minimum of wit to declare that this strange comedy turned drama falls short.

While Payne is trustworthy enough as a writer-director to breed hope, Downsizing sounded pretty iffy on paper and a far cry from the realistic dramedies that established Payne as a witty teller of human stories.

The film opens in a laboratory in Norway where a scientist (Rolf Lassgård, star of last year's Academy Award-nominated A Man Called Ove) successfully arrives at a way to shrink mice, and by extension, humans while keeping them alive and healthy. Other movies have done the shrinking thing before, from Fantastic Voyage to Innerspace. Downsizing uses the technique not for the wow factor of regular-sized things seeming huge, but as a way to consider preserving the earth's resources and lessening everyone's carbon footprint.

In Alexander Payne's "Downsizing", occupational therapist Paul Safranek (Matt Damon) follows the lead of his friend (Jason Sudeikis) and undergoes a procedure to "get small."

Those who struggle to get by at five or six feet can flourish at five or six inches, with their costs of living reduced and their comfort enlarged in luxury suites that are marketed by the corporation who performs this dramatic procedure. Our protagonist is Paul Safranek (Matt Damon), an occupational therapist from Omaha, Nebraska who decides to "get small" with his wife Audrey (a barely used Kristen Wiig). They are warned of the risks, have their bodies completely shaved, and...it turns out Audrey got cold feet and Paul alone has undergone the irreversible shrinking procedure.

Bachelor living seems to be the bigger adjustment than miniature living for Paul, whose life of dating awkward single moms (Kerri Kenney) changes when he joins the noisy party being thrown by his suave upstairs neighbor Dusan (a charismatic Christoph Waltz). The morning after the raucous shindig, Paul meets Ngoc Lan Tran (Hong Chau), a cleaning lady who was famously the only Vietnamese dissident to survive a fleeing in a television box at Walmart. She lost a leg in the process and Paul's attempt to repair her prosthetic leaves her in need of a replacement.

Being in Ngoc's debt means Paul has to tag along on her humanitarian causes to help others like her who are living in the outer slums of the shrunk-down community. Eventually, Paul joins the refugee's cleaning crew and then both of them get invited (with some emotional manipulation) to join Dusan on a visit to the secretive original shrunken community in Norway where the scientist still lives.

Somewhere along the line, "Downsizing" becomes less about miniaturization and more about Ngoc Lan Tran (Hong Chau), the Vietnamese dissident who eventually catches Paul's (Matt Damon) eye.

To say more regarding Downsizing's plot might move this review into spoiler territory. Certainly, trailers have not revealed the ultimate destination of the narrative, instead marketing this as a comedy in which an ordinary gets man gets shrunk down to the size of a soda can. The film, an original work attributed to Payne and his Election and Sideways co-scribe Jim Taylor, is unpredictable. It takes turns you don't foresee and ones that don't seem to bear any relevance to the story as it is set up.

Downsizing demands a stronger or more original presence at its center than Matt Damon. Damon has never been a huge comedy guy; anyone could have been funny in the Ocean's Eleven ensemble and although The Martian was well received and a Golden Globe winner for Best Comedy or Musical, he was a large part of why it didn't work for me.
I will give him Stuck on You fourteen years ago. Here, he's just Matt Damon, ordinary guy and the movie needs him to be more, at least until Hong Chau takes it over with her enthusiastic broken English, which the Thailand-born, Vietnamese-American actress puts on completely. Some will find that problematic, while others will appreciate that Downsizing does what just about no other American movie that doesn't star Jackie Chan does: put an Asian-American actor in the foreground.

Though it was anticipated in advance to be an Oscar player since premiering at Venice in August, Downsizing's award hopes have mostly wittled down to Chau in the Supporting Actress category. She was up for that award at the Golden Globes and at tonight's Screen Actors Guild awards, which means she has a legitimate shot of turning this into an Academy Award nominee. But clearly Payne's winning streak is over and Downsizing was more or less destined to flop, the second straight Matt Damon vehicle to do so for Paramount after fall's far more commercially disastrous Suburbicon.

Related Reviews:
Now in Theaters: The PostPhantom ThreadCall Me By Your Name12 StrongThe Disaster Artist
Written and Directed by Alexander Payne: NebraskaThe Descendants
Matt Damon: SuburbiconThe Great WallThe MartianHereafterJason Bourne
Christoph Waltz: Big EyesThe Legend of TarzanDjango UnchainedSpectre | Hong Chau: Inherent Vice

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Reviewed January 21, 2018.

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