STARS: Matt Damon, Hong Chau, Christoph Waltz, Kristen Wiig
DIRECTOR: Alexander Payne
For viewing Downsizing, I'm suggesting you adopt a totally different mindset. One you would enter when preparing for a sitting meditation. You don't get the full effect of meditation until afterwards. In between, your mind may wander. You might feel bored. But if you're patient and hang in there, you'll find yourself in something of an altered state. And altered states are what Downsizing is (literally) all about.
Paul Safranek (Matt Damon), and his wife Audrey (Kristen Wiig), are a lower middle class couple dissatisfied with their station in life. When a scientific breakthrough allows humans to be shrunk to around five inches tall and live in doll house communities with others who have undergone the procedure, the implications for the planet are huge. Something I've harped on for decades--that all of the world's major problems can be traced back to overpopulation--is at the heart of this film's premise. With people taking up much less space and using fewer resources, and polluting on a much smaller scale, perhaps Mother Earth could begin to recover. It doesn't hurt that a family of modest means can live like kings in the new scaled-down world either.
Paul, who's a hapless kind of dude who is just trying to roll with the punches of life (many can relate), sees brighter days ahead, and undergoes the shrinking procedure. His wife balks at the last minute, and leaves him in this brave new world all on his own.
He's going to learn that everything from the macro pretty much transfers to the micro. People are people wherever you go. When slum tenements are shown, it's something of an epiphany. As above, so below. There is no utopia.
What makes Paul's journey (and this film) memorable is the relationship he develops with a hobbled Vietnamese woman named Ngoc Lan Tran (Hong Chau). She pulls no punches, and will lead him to come to terms with who he is...and who he ultimately wants to be. (And Hong Chau is going to win something for this performance!)
While comedic elements abound--one of them is Christoph Waltz as Paul's free-spirited neighbor (the other memorable turn here)--the end of this visually and emotionally stunning film left me meditating on the ultimate fate of mankind. Will we wake up in time to save ourselves...or continue down the current path to self-destruction?
That's a movie coming soon from a future generation.
Watching Downsizing brought me back to a time when I was obsessed with building a doll house. Everything normally used for what it was meant to be used for became something else: white bottle caps were tables, pennies turned into patio pavers, etc. So when these pint-sized people began appearing, I loved it.
At first, I thought the movie was going to be about Damon's relationship with his decidedly larger wife. (Whose decision not to miniaturize herself was one I definitely identified with!) Then it became another movie – about Damon's survival in his strange and sterile environment. And lastly, the movie morphed into yet another Cocoon like tale. Too disjointed for me. And I'm not comfortable with too many plots. Or too much overt preaching.
I, too, think Hong Chau will be nominated for her brilliant performance. And it's not the first time director and co-writer Alexander Payne has introduced us to an Asian lady with acting chops. Remember Sandra Oh in Sideways? (Granted Oh is Korean and Chau is from Thailand but you get my drift....)
And Christoph Waltz has always been one of my favorites. I remember when he received a Best Supporting Actor award for his role in Inglourious Basterds as a totally evil, totally believable Nazi. I half expected him to be equally evil in person. Quite the opposite. He was humble, almost shy in his acceptance speech.
But I felt Downsizing dragged in spots, especially towards the end. It's not the first time shrinking humans have been depicted in a film (Meet Dave with Eddie Murphy, Tooth Fairy with Dwayne Johnson, Gulliver's Travels with Jack Black, etc.) I'm sure it won't be the last. I just hope next time, the movie will stick to one theme.