Nico’s Movie Review: ‘Downsizing’ Is Disjointed, Yet Charming
Do you remember the movie Tropic Thunder, about a group of actors filming a Vietnam War movie who accidentally find themselves in the middle of a real war? Do you remember how at the beginning of that film, they had a bunch of fake trailers for movies that these fake actors supposedly starred in?
Downsizing feels like a movie that was spawned from a fake trailer like that.
That isn't to say Downsizing isn't creative, far from it; it's just such a ridiculous concept, and it almost feels like someone said "hey, what if we made a movie about shrinking people to save the environment" and then they had to figure out how the hell to tell a story like that.
This film begins by setting the stage for the "science"; a group in Norway, which believes that overpopulation is the greatest threat facing humanity, develops the technology to shrink people down to 5 inches tall. A few years after this technology becomes available, people around the world begin to undergo the procedure for a variety of reasons, be they environmental, financial or personal.
The main story of the movie involves major loser Paul Safrenek (Matt Damon) and his wife, Audrey (Kristen Wiig) deciding to downsize, because it makes their limited resources stretch much farther (at one point, someone says that 1 US Dollar buys the equivalent of 1000 dollars worth of stuff at small size).
I want to start my opinions on Downsizing right off the bat with a major gripe; the main conceit of this film is so outlandish and distracting, it seriously detracts from the quality. In the first few minutes, I'm already rolling my eyes, for many reasons; lets say climate change is actually man made. Overpopulation isn't the cause of it! The Earth is nowhere near capacity (in fact, depending on how tightly you pack the sardines, you could fit 7 billion people in an area roughly the size of Texas; accounting for agriculture and other resource gathering, it doesn't seem unreasonable to say you could fit the world in the Continental US), and even if it was near capacity, individual humans are NOT the main contributors to climate change, so shrinking people would barely change anything.
Before I go into my other problems, I do want to be fair and say what I enjoyed about this movie. First of all, I really do like how creative it is. It's good to get a film that's based entirely on a new idea, as opposed to a book, or a comic book, or a sequel or reboot or whatever.
Downsizing plays with some really interesting ideas; I do like the subtle cleverness of developing a world changing technology like a shrinking machine, and Americans immediately turning it into a commodity. The downsizing procedure is sold like a timeshare, and it really was a good use of satire.
However, by far my favorite thing about this movie was the character of Ngoc Lan Tran (Hong Chau), a Vietnamese dissident who we are introduced to about halfway through the film. Her character is a little stereotypical, talking in broken English and working as a maid, but her development throughout the film is just fantastic, and so is Chau's performance.
I really have to applaud Hong Chau, the daughter of Vietnamese refugees herself; her emotional range is really fantastic, and while the thick accent she portrays is a little distracting at first, after a few minutes you're picking up the subtleties of her performance. I can guarantee that I will be seeking out movies featuring Hong Chau in the future.
Now, on to my other major problems. Chief among them is, Matt Damon's character is LAME. At first, I was thinking to myself, "wow, Matt Damon really can't act at all, can he?", but then I realized that his character's main trait is that he HAS no character traits. So maybe Damon was actually giving as best a performance as he could, and it was the script and direction that was failing him. I get that Downsizing is a movie about finding yourself in a crazy world, but there has to at least be SOMETHING beyond an empty shell or else the audience becomes detached and bored.
I also have a problem with the tone of this movie. For the first third of the movie or so, the feel is lighthearted, featuring several sight gags involving downsized people, and the aforementioned satiric, timeshare-like approach to selling the procedure. Then suddenly, the second third of the movie turns more into a straightforward character drama, which while a little more serious is still full of heart and funny moments.
However, the last act of the movie becomes kind of fatalistic and depressing, and while it does ultimately end on an up beat it's a bit of a jarring change. Downsizing is hard to read; I can't tell if it is being preachy, or making fun of people for being preachy.
Downsizing is a film that has inspired a lot of emotions and thoughts within me; I guess in one sense that's a good thing, because I went into this movie expecting it to be a throwaway I'd forget I even saw. I can't say whether or not it is a good film, but there's one thing that I do know, which I'm actually surprised by:
I really like this film. It is incredibly flawed, but there's a certain charm and originality to it, that I feel is so often missing from wide-release movies nowadays.
I'd recommend a viewing of Downsizing, and you might hate it, but I think it's at least worth checking out. See the trailer below.