Downsizing

 

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A memorable fable, but one that seems to promise so much more then it actually delivers.

 
Downsizing

Small talk: Matt Damon

 

The range of films dealing with characters subjected to a shrinking process is wide. It extends from the sci-fi world of The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957) which bordered on the horror movie to the outright comic adventure of Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (1989). What you do not expect is a film of this kind from Alexander Payne who gave us Sideways (2004) and Nebraska (2013) and indeed his new work, Downsizing, only superficially belongs to this category. The 15 certificate confirms that it is not aimed at children and, whatever the film’s trailer might imply, this is not a fun movie. It is not entirely without humour, true, but it is essentially a dystopian fable which, without ever becoming heavy-handed, incorporates all kinds of references to serious social issues.

 

At the outset we are asked to accept that a Norwegian scientist has successfully discovered a way of reducing the size of a human being to a mere five inches, a procedure which could lead to helping the world by cutting down consumption and waste. We then jump forward ten years to find a married couple, Paul and Audrey Safranek (Matt Damon and Kristen Wiig) opting to follow the example of friends and be miniaturised themselves since the limited expenditure required thereafter will give them a richer life-style in addition to aiding the planet.

 

In a long film (135 minutes) the special effects feature mainly in the first quarter since subsequently all of the characters seen are downsized. They live in a community in New Mexico known as Leisureland, but it is not exactly Utopia since Leisureland turns out to have its own shantytown. Only 3% having opted to be miniaturised, these people are a minority who may be treated badly for that very reason. Indeed, theirs is a new life style which echoes many of the failings of the old one, but, even if the downsizing were reversible (which it isn’t), there would be no apparent escape from the eventual end of the world signposted by a release of methane gas from the Arctic.

 

Downsizing has the reputation of dividing audience opinion, but for a long time its audacious novelty had me firmly on its side relishing this dystopian tale, one not so far removed from such works as the classic Aldous Huxley novel Brave New World. But, given the length, it is surprising that, in developing this piece over some years, Payne and his co-writer Jim Taylor did not get down to further re-writes to provide more shape and focus. Few of the ideas touched upon are really followed through. Furthermore, what seems to be intended as Paul’s possible redemption through the impact on him of a forceful Vietnamese refugee (Hong Chau) is undermined by the writing. It is her influence that leads to the film's climax when it becomes a question of choosing either to retreat further to survive or to confront a dangerous world head on. Once or twice a joke seems ill-placed and the concluding scenes, which should build to a human affirmation, prove particularly weak and unpersuasive. In an able cast Damon is very good indeed and one would like to reward the film’s sheer novelty value by recommending it, but ultimately one emerges feeling that the opportunity for meaningful comment in an intriguing context has largely been missed.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Matt Damon, Christoph Waltz, Hong Chau, Kristen Wiig, Rolf Lassgård, Ingjerd Egeberg, Udo Keir, Søren Pilmark, Jayne Houdyshell, Jason Sudeikis, Phil Reeves, James Van Der Beek, Neil Patrick Harris, Laura Dern, Margo Martindale, Mary Kay Place.

 

Dir Alexander Payne, Pro Mark Johnson, Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor, Screenplay Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor, Ph Phedon Papamichael, Pro Des Stefania Cella, Ed Kevin Tent, Music Rolfe Kent, Costumes Wendy Chuck.

 

Ad Hominem Enterprises-Paramount Pictures.
135 mins. USA. 2017. Rel: 24 January 2018. Cert. 15.