Sunday, 1 April 2018

Downsizing ★★☆☆☆

‘Downsizing’, the newest film by director Alexander Payne (‘Nebraska’, ‘The Descendants’) seems like a really interesting premise from the trailer. Taking the current threats to the Earth and humanity as we know it into account, the story follows Paul (Matt Damon) and his wife Audrey (Kristen Wiig), who are struggling to make ends meet in suburban America. People around them are starting to take on the idea of downsizing, a solution to overpopulation devised by Dr. Jorgen Asbjørnsen (Rolf Lassgård) which sees the recipient go through a medical process to become just five inches tall. The newly-shrunk people find their financial situations reversed as they can now afford luxury lifestyles in small communities.

Unfortunately for Paul it’s not the miracle fix he was hoping for as, upon waking from the irreversible shrinking procedure, he finds out that Audrey flaked out at the last minute and will no longer be joining him in Leisureland, the estate where they had just purchased a new mansion. One divorce later and Paul is now living on his own in a much smaller apartment, seemingly one of the only small people having to work (in a dead-end job, to top it all off), and seriously considering his life choices.

As you can imagine, it sounds like a really interesting premise, and I was initially intrigued by the concept because I wanted to see what life would be like in this situation. Does it end up helping the environment, and is everyone as happy as they seem? Or its there something darker on the way - something that will bring regret to the human race and threaten their existence even more?

Unfortunately for me (and probably many others), these questions were never answered and the film didn’t even touch on this sort of stuff as, around 45 minutes in, the story took a bizarre twist and instead focused on Paul’s life derailing after becoming too involved with his party-loving neighbour Dušan (Christopher Waltz) and one-legged cleaner Ngoc Lan Tran (Hong Chau), who is actually a famous political activist from Vietnam. It becomes apparent that this film does not know what it’s trying to say - somehow it manages to be a journey of self-discovery, an environmental warning, a utopian-dystopian conflict, a love story, and a commentary on the human race all at the same time and, to be honest, it’s just too much. 

Because of this issue it feels like Payne wanted to cram everything he possibly could into the story and, although there’s some great attention to detail with the little things (such as facial expressions from Waltz in the background of one particular scene that somehow just add so much to what’s going on) it’s really vague as a whole, with many scenes feeling disconnected as they seem to jump from point A to point C without any real explanation as to what is going on. It puts a lot of pressure on the viewer to make all these connections, and certainly leads to confusion at points. Development of relationships also gets lost within the ever-increasing plot threads - you’d think at 2 hours and 15 minutes there would be enough time for this stuff, but it ends up dragging on and making you feel like there’s no end in sight.

Thankfully it’s not all bad, as the acting is very good throughout (as always, with some of these actors), and Hong Chau, who is more known for TV series than feature-length films, is absolutely brilliant as Tran. Although feeling exasperated with the storyline, I still couldn’t help but get emotionally attached to her character, and certain monologues were a struggle to get through without bawling my eyes out. The concept of the film is very similar to ‘Hector and the Search for Happiness’, starring Simon Pegg, but the key difference here is that the message doesn’t get lost in the way it does with ‘Downsizing’.

Too many plots do indeed spoil the story, and this is the main issue with ‘Downsizing’. It’s promising at the beginning with a fascinating and original concept behind it but, sadly, it’s just too poorly executed to deliver what everyone was hoping for. 

Hannah Read

Downsizing at CeX

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