Size matters for ill-suited Damon
How would you like to be five-inches tall and live in a community that could fit into a shoebox?
That is the fascinating central idea at the heart of Alexander Payne’s sci-fi dramedy, with couple Paul (Matt Damon) and Audrey (Kristen Wiig) Safranek facing the choice of permanently shrinking to enjoy a life of luxury.
Payne re-teams with his Sideways and Election writer Jim Taylor on a clever script that makes Downsizing unlike any other movie you’ve ever seen.
It’s bristling with social satire as what could have been a gimmick-only, height-joke-led watch is instead packed with overarching themes like overpopulation and its impact on the environment.
There are sizeist barbs too with people told to “get small” and others proclaiming themselves “normal sized-people” and even in a new smaller world the elite and poor are separated.
Still, life for Paul in the plush Leisureland is far from idyllic as he has to put up with loud playboy neighbour Dusan (a grandstanding Christoph Waltz) who keeps referring to himself in the third person.
The visuals and Stefania Cella’s (Black Mass) production design are top notch and bring this unusual reality to eye-catching life as groups choosing to undergo the downsizing procedure end up looking like the world’s most realistic Subbuteo sets.
But despite everything Payne’s latest has going for it, we are a long way off the brilliance of Sideways as it never quite fully clicks.
Most attempts at humour fall flat, particularly the tiresome mispronunciation of Paul and Audrey’s surname and Hong Chau’s Vietnamese political activist Ngoc Lan Tran’s casual use of the words “death” and “dead”.
Chau herself flips between grating and touching in a wildly inconsistent performance; but at least she has a bit of fun with the premise.
Everyone else – apart from Waltz – looks downtrodden throughout and it’s very odd to see Damon playing a frumpy, slightly overweight everyman who never seems to find happiness.
It’s as if he’s trying to play a younger version of Jack Nicholson’s character in Payne’s About Schmidt and it doesn’t really work – or suit Damon’s acting style.
He is given a thorough visual roasting, though, in a standout sequence where he is shorn of all of his body hair in preparation for his downsizing; and the fact the procedure is irreversible results in thought-provoking decision-making and questionable morality.
The uneven nature of the film is perhaps best summed up by its bookends; an expositionheavy but tantalising opening and a climax that veers off in an unexpected-but-jarring direction.
Downsizing may struggle to make the most of its hugely intriguing initial concept, then, but there are more highs than lows in what is one giant step for cinematic originality.
Giant step Damon and Wiig weigh up the shrinking procedure