Thanks to Paramount Pictures we had the chance to see Downsizing before its national release. This is our review of the movie, but as usual, no matter what we say, we still recommend you to go and see it at your local cinema because there is no better critic than yourself!
Downsizing is an acerbic, Swiftian satire of modern life that asks what would happen if we could shrink our economic needs and ecological footprints by literally shrinking. Matt Damon and Kristen Wiig play struggling couple Paul and Audrey Safranek, who see the lifestyle on offer to the new class of tiny people and decide to “downsize” themselves. Audrey has a surprise for Paul, though, and things unravel in ways he couldn’t have imagined.
His world is broadened when he meets his neighbour, Dusan (Christoph Waltz in a hilarious performance) and his friend Joris (the inimitable Udo Kier, who steals every scene) who engage in smuggling illicit materials to the new community. This broadened world is further upturned by meeting Vietnamese refugee Ngoc, played by Hong Chau in a fiery performance that had the audience I was sitting with laughing, but may grate against some sensibilities (who should pay attention to what she’s saying, not how she’s saying it). They go on a quest to meet the originator of the downsizing process and are very surprised at what they find.
The opening of the film painstakingly lays out the world in which this story can occur, and it’s a thing to behold. The matter-of-fact industrialisation of the shrinking process is both funny and disturbing, and the gated community for the newly-shrunken humans is a gauchely consumerist suburban fantasy. But, sadly, the film doesn’t explore much of the relationship between the full-scale world and the tiny world, a tension it does touch upon now and then. It also doesn’t get much mileage from the challenges a tiny person would face. As it progresses it becomes entirely a character-driven dramedy, and so if you’re hoping for something along the lines of Honey, I Shrunk the Kids then you’re going to be disappointed.
But then it’s not that sort of film. It’s an Alexander Payne film all the way, exploring mainly the questions posed to its characters. Downsizing pokes some nasty fun at issues regarding immigration, consumerism, gentrification, middle-class envy, narcissism and hypocrisy, but it’s really about Paul Safranek figuring out what’s important in life. Whether this is satisfying to you as a viewer might be questionable, but I enjoyed spending time hanging out with the gang of misfits it assembles and the Lilliputian imagery is very nicely done. Ultimately, no matter where you go, you can’t escape yourself, and that’s what this film has to say.