Gul­liver’s Tra­vails

A puny Matt Da­mon grap­ples with big ideas in the sci-fi dram­edy Down­siz­ing

METROPOLE - Vienna in English - - CONTENTS - By Ger­hard Posch

In Down­siz­ing, ac­claimed di­rec­torscreen­writer Alexan­der Payne feeds au­di­ences with sci-fi and hu­mour yet leaves a grim out­look on the fu­ture.

Alexan­der Payne has done it again. The ac­claimed di­rec­tor-screen­writer be­hind con­tem­po­rary clas­sics About Sch­midt, Side­ways and The De­scen­dants crafted a film un­like any other in to­day’s prof­itable but repet­i­tive Hol­ly­wood. In a box of­fice world re­plete with se­quels, fran­chises, adap­ta­tions and re­boots, his new movie Down­siz­ing is both smart and grip­ping, and it fea­tures an Os­car-gilded cast that pro­duces some­thing re­fresh­ing and pow­er­ful. In Down­siz­ing, Matt Da­mon plays a Mid­west­erner at the on­set of a midlife cri­sis who shrinks him­self to at­tain ma­te­rial ful­fill­ment. Payne casts his pro­tag­o­nist’s small-scale woes against greater global prob­lems of over­pop­u­la­tion, cli­mate change and nat­u­ral re­source de­ple­tion. What at first seems like a premise to the lat­est Club of Rome re­port slowly turns into an odyssey with a bleak end­ing.


Imag­ine that in an at­tempt to re­duce mankind’s eco­log­i­cal foot­print, Nor­we­gian sci­en­tists suc­ceed in shrink­ing hu­mans to five inches tall. Some time later, Da­mon’s char­ac­ter Paul Safranek and his wife, Au­drey (Kirsten Wiig), de­cide to “down­size,” and their aim isn’t nec­es­sar­ily to save the planet. In a small world, the Safraneks’ mod­est sav­ings trans­late into mil­lions and a lux­u­ri­ous life­style unattain­able in the big world is now within their grasp. But in­stead of a man­sion, shop­ping sprees and golf, the minis­cule world of­fers Safranek large lessons about hu­man na­ture. He be­friends his play­boy neigh­bor Du­san, played by Christoph Waltz with ir­re­sistible hu­mor and his trade­mark cor­rupted charm. Paul also re­dis­cov­ers love, which makes him marvel at the world with the won­der it de­serves and gives him com­fort when the grand so­cial ex­per­i­ment ul­ti­mately fails. Down­siz­ing’s vis­ual ef­fects daz­zle, and Payne’s knack for the very finest cin­e­matic im­agery is once again ap­par­ent. While Da­mon’s medium-size per­for­mance falls short of an Os­car nom­i­na­tion, new­comer Hong Chau’s touch­ing por­trayal of a shrunk Viet­namese dis­si­dent who en­ters Paul’s life gar­nered Golden Globe and SAG nom­i­na­tions for best sup­port­ing ac­tress.


Yet the shower of ac­co­lades that met Payne’s pre­vi­ous movies has not set in. While claim­ing Hol­ly­wood lau­rels is cer­tainly not

the be-all and end-all of artis­tic suc­cess, for Payne, a critic’s fa­vorite, it’s per­haps a re­flec­tion of some of the film’s short­com­ings. Pen­ning the script with his long­time writ­ing part­ner Jim Tay­lor, Payne tries his hand at satire, yet his sig­na­ture re­al­ism is both a bless­ing and a curse. The metic­u­lous, pseudo-sci­en­tific back­ground lends it­self well to the comedic ex­ag­ger­a­tion the genre needs to flour­ish, but Safranek’s fa­mil­iar re­grets and rou­tines an­chor Down­siz­ing in some un­com­fort­able truths. Even through the hy­per­bolic lens of science fic­tion, it’s hard to gain enough dis­tance: Mankind’s ul­ti­mate down­fall, global warming, feels way too plau­si­ble to be a laugh­ing mat­ter. Down­siz­ing’s over­ar­ch­ing theme is fa­mil­iar: Utopia fails be­cause mankind brings its bag­gage with it. Yet the film is so­phis­ti­cated and mem­o­rable, leav­ing the au­di­ence with a sober and grim out­look for the fu­ture. If Paul Safranek is the typ­i­cal every­man, our species’ well-in­ten­tioned but self-de­struc­tive na­ture pre­dis­poses our pend­ing demise. Payne’s lat­est may not be the com­edy it as­pires to, but will it be big enough for a clas­sic? Let’s hope we live long enough to find out.

Now Play­ing, Vo­tiv Kino. 9., Währinger Strasse 12. vo­ • Starts Feb 9, Burgkino. 1., Opern­ring 19.

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