BFI LFF 2017 – Downsizing (2017)
People are nowadays looking for ways to stretch their monthly salary, with some also turning to eco-friendly lifestyles to minimise waste and help the environment. In his first film since Academy Award nominee Nebraska, director Alexander Payne explores a more drastic method of saving the planet.
Downsizing stars Matt Damon as Paul, an occupational therapist living in Omaha. In a bid to escape their boring life, he and his wife Audrey (Kristen Wiig) decide to downsize – a high-tech procedure that permanently shrinks humans to 5in tall so they can live like millionaires in a miniaturised world called Leisureland.
Despite its clever premise, certain cliché plot elements make Downsizing predictable and ironically, unoriginal. There is a regular guy struggling to find himself, only to have his eyes opened to the bigger picture. There is also an unassuming love interest and an unlikely friend. Along with a tried-and-tested narrative, the whole setup doesn’t complement the originality of the film. In addition, Damon is unusually uninspiring and dull as Paul, as he struggles to make an impression as Downsizing’s lead character and to stand out among the film’s more vibrant characters.
In addition, the characterisation of Ngoc Lan Tran (Hong Chau) comes across as offensive. A former Vietnamese activist, Tran is forcibly downsized by the government only to be reduced to an immigrant cleaner who communicates through brash, broken English. However, her selflessness towards others makes her the most compassionate character in the film and provides a stark contrast to the other somewhat materialistic characters of Leisureland.
One of the redeeming features of Downsizing is its wonderfully creative story. Resonating with the environmentally conscious, the bizarre concept of irreversibly shrinking yourself for a better life offers sparks of imagination from Payne and co-screenwriter Jim Taylor. The witty and occasionally thought-provoking dialogue reflects their offbeat humour, with the transformation scene highlighting eye-catching special effects and deadpan comedic touches. Waltz is also a welcome surprise as Paul’s fun-loving neighbour Dusan, whose brutal honesty as a self-confessed asshole makes him incredibly watchable, not to mention Downsizing’s most grounded and charming character.
With its imaginative science-fiction premise, Downsizing is Payne’s most fantastical film to date that sadly abandons its satirical angle for conventional sentiment.
Director: Alexander Payne, Jim Taylor (co-scr.)
Stars: Matt Damon, Christoph Waltz, Hong Chau, Kristen Wiig, Jason Sudeikis
Runtime: 135 minutes