Boy did this look like an odd number. It’s like HONEY, WE SHRUNK OURSELVES! (1997), but rated-R. What was really odd was the early buzz saying that it was one of the best films of the year. I don’t know. I mean, before seeing it, I thought it looked fun enough, but I couldn’t imagine this movie being “best film” material. But I hadn’t seen it at the time, so judgment is never a good idea.
The story looked like it was about a married couple who decide to shrink themselves for… well, to be honest, the reasons for “downsizing” are a little vague in the trailers. In any case, while the husband decides to go for it, the wife has second thoughts and bails. I assumed the story would be almost like a sitcom, just finding excuses to have funny visuals about tiny people and their environment.
In support, we have Christoph Waltz (TULIP FEVER , and upcoming films GEORGETOWN  and ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL ), Rolf Lassgård (a ton of foreign projects, but he’ll be featured in the upcoming THE SWIMMER ), Jason Sudeikis (COLOSSAL , and upcoming films DRIVEN  and NEXT GEN ), Kristen Wiig (MOTHER! , HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON , and upcoming films WHERE’D YOU GO BERNADETTE  and HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON: THE HIDDEN WORLD ), and James Van Der Beek (LABOR DAY  and TV show DON’T TRUST THE B— IN APARTMENT 23 [2012 – 2013]).
Now for the crew. Directing and co-writing is Alexander Payne, known for stuff I’ve either never seen or heard of. Payne’s partner-in-pen is Jim Taylor, known for I NOW PRONOUNCE YOU CHUCK & LARRY (2007) and JURASSIC PARK III (2001), and the upcoming JULIET, NAKED (2018). The composer is Rolfe Kent, known for ROCK DOG (2017), and upcoming films STAN & OLLIE (2018) and THE PHILOSOPHY OF PHIL (2018). The cinematographer is Phedon Papamichael, known for THE HUNTSMAN: WINTER’S WAR (2016). Finally, the editor is Kevin Tent, known for THE GOLDEN COMPASS (2007) and GIRL, INTERRUPTED (1999).
Overall, this looks like it could be fun and imaginative. Not super excited, but looking forward to it.
This is my honest opinion of: DOWNSIZING
In Norway, a science miracle has been discovered: the ability to shrink objects down to mere inches. Fifteen years later, the process has been perfected to the point of successfully shrinking down humans, which is becoming a craze of sorts. It’s also being marketed as environmentally friendly, as it is believed that overpopulation will overtake the world and “downsizing” will solve the problem exponentially. Thinking the technology is fantastic and motivated to do his part for his planet, resident American Paul Safranek (Matt Damon) wants to go through with it with his wife, Audrey (Kristen Wiig). However, even though he gets downsized, Audrey decides to not and leave him. Time later, Paul meets an eccentric Austrian neighbor named Dusan (Christoph Waltz) and eventually also befriends a Vietnamese woman named Ngoc Lan Tran (Hong Chau) and gets himself involved in their lives as Paul tries to figure out his place in the world.
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get a kick out of this movie, but I don’t think it’s as good as the critics say it is, or you have to be willing to suspend a great deal of disbelief. The amount of which the average audience may not be able to do.
Like I said, I get a kick out of this movie for one reason only: the visuals. There’s something funny about seeing Damon lugging around a giant flower head, or seeing a giant bottle of vodka getting dispensed. It’s pretty funny, in that respect. And for the most part, the performances are pretty good too. Damon delivers as a dude who doesn’t know if he made the right decision to downsize, Waltz is delightfully over the top in his expressions, and the world is as cutely creative as I imagined. Also, that scene with Neil Patrick Harris and Laura Dern… just… spin off of these two? Please? Just… just please?
I also have to tilt my hat for the surprising amount of restraint in its humor. For the most part, the movie plays itself pretty straight, which… I’ll get to in a little bit, but for a comedy about shrinking people, there’s surprisingly little danger they face outside of the environmental stuff. What I mean is, they don’t do the HONEY, WE SHRUNK OURSELVES humor. There’s no giant insects that have to be evaded, there’s no death-defying climb over a mountain of clothes, almost getting eating while in a cheerio, you know, that kind of humor. I would have seriously lost a lot of respect for this movie if that’s what they were aiming for. Thankfully, this movie keeps its focus on its desired demographic, adults, and makes an adult movie.
However, there are sadly some problems with the movie.
Smaller issues are that Paul is too bland a character. I know I said that I liked his performance, but that’s just because he’s Matt Damon. I don’t think he’s ever churned out a bad performance, even in his worst movies. Having said that, Paul is pretty one-note. All he ever does is complain and whine, very seldom does he do anything interesting. His wide-eyed amazement at scientific advances are fun for a little while, but after a time, Paul’s gears shift horribly to something less interesting and less fun. I feel similarly about Ngoc Lan. If you told me that Chau was a great actress, I would believe you. She’s incredibly expressive and despite her accent, she manages to pull some subtle and emotional acting through it. But for the most part, Ngoc Lan is annoying. She does that stereotype of speaking enough English to know what’s being said to her, but nonchalantly ignores what is being said to her. She constantly interrupts people, tells people to do something that they aren’t qualified to do, it’s a loud and relentless character that isn’t always fun to watch. While I will always laugh at the “What kind of fuck you give me” scene, her good scenes are so rare that it’s almost a chore to watch.
But I think the worst thing about the film is that it tries too hard to be smart and eventually gets a little too convoluted for its own good. The premise isn’t so bad: shrink people down to reduce the crisis that is overpopulation. Alright, fair enough. I’m not entirely sure why alleviating world hunger wouldn’t be mixed in somewhere in there, giving the downsized people real-sized foods to eat, which could last a good long time. Sure, it likely wouldn’t solve it, but cut it down by a percentage. After all, we’ve seen it done with Absolut vodka. Why not food? Anyway, what I’m driving at is the smaller practicalities, like, how do the downsized get around in the real-sized world? I know, they’re carried in containers and buses and planes are specially modified, but there’s still questions there. Are there specially hired handlers that are trained to carry them around in their containers? That… actually might be that case. After all, tiny people in a world of giants, that could be considered a handicap. But what about other things, like, cars, buses, and airplanes? In the case of buses, I know they’re specially modified to carry the downsized, but that hardly explains the causality of bumpy roads, or hard breaking. While a normal sized person wouldn’t think twice about a bumpy road, I imagine they’d be small earthquakes for the downsized. And what would happen to someone five inches tall in airplane pressure at some thousand feet in the air? Wouldn’t their heads explode? How does that work? Did the movie explain any of this?
In retrospect, I’m probably thinking too hard about these things. They’re not supposed to be the focus and I’m nitpicking. Fair enough, the focus is on downsizing solving overpopulation. However, I think this isn’t thoroughly explored either. Or… maybe the idea seemed so complex, but easy to understand, that in reality it was almost too simple and couldn’t be explored as much as the movie let on.
What we ultimately learn is that the incorporated technology came too late. Not enough of the world’s population downsized in time and it was discovered that the world is going to end soon. All of the movie’s presented problems should take up much of the story’s focus, but really, it’s barely a blip on the radar. For far too much of the movie, it’s just cute “shrunk people interacting with big things” or Paul getting dramatically involved with Dusan and Ngoc Lan. So it’s a wonder what any of this has to do with the world ending.
Maybe I’m just a small-minded, uneducated nobody, but this movie is toted as a social satire. Thing is, I have no idea what it’s satirizing. Is it supposed to be commentary about how the rich are seen as careless jerks and the poor clean up after them? I honestly don’t know. But fine, you know what I learned over the years, a smart movie can be a smart movie, but at its core, it should be entertaining. Take a story like Animal Farm. On the surface, the story is about self-aware farm animals who are tired of being treated as such and rise up against their human oppressors. The story can be entertaining and the common person can like it on those grounds alone and no one would fault that person. But the truth is that the story is about Russian communism, or something along those lines, and once someone is explained the parallels, the story can be even more appreciated. DOWNSIZING is not like that. The surface story doesn’t have many interesting characters to follow, the fun visuals are far inbetween, rendering the creative possibilities limited, and it’s not really all that funny. Maybe the smarter audiences can pick up on what this movie was driving at, but I didn’t find a whole lot of merit in this flick.
Overall, the movie is by no means… bad, I guess. It’s certainly not worth getting upset about. But it’s not all that good either. Whatever critics were praising the hell out of this movie… what movie did they see? How much money were they being bribed to say positive things? Eh, whatever. I’m not about to make legit accusations. My recommendation… viewer beware. Save it for a rental or a streaming service if you must. There’s a few good things in the movie, but not enough for a cinema visit. An interesting start, but a bland execution.
My honest rating for DOWNSIZING: a weak 3/5