Well that was disappointing.
Paul Safranek lives a pretty unfulfilling life, always supporting others but not especially giving in to his own wants or needs. Drowning in debt, living small with big dreams, he convinces his wife to join him on a newly discovered science: Downsizing. Living in a miniature world, being only ten centimeters tall would erase their debt and have them living like royalty.
Directed by Alexander Payne, the man behind About Schmidt and the highly rated Sideways, Downsizing… really isn’t anything it could have been. In fact, it is bafflingly boring, despite how “quirky” it is.
What do you expect from a film about miniaturized people? You think of The Borrowers, you think Honey I Shrunk the Kids and Arrietty, these films with incredible production design giving a sense of scale and wonderful visuals that expand our perceptions of our world. Downsizing does none of this. That’s right. Despite this film being about people shrunk down to tiny size, I counted three props that gave any sense of scale. Three. In a film that lasts over two hours, it takes one hundred and ten minutes before it does anything interesting with scale!
This makes the film really dull, even with the most average of expectations. Everything is apparently “small”, but you are watching people in rooms and houses that are built for that scale… so… you are watching people in normal sets. So… a normal setting. Hugely unimpressed with the set design and production design here. It is almost like they didn’t have the budget to do anything interesting.
The film does hint at some interesting themes though. While set in a “near-future” setting, the film does address some of the fundamental benefits and issues with such a technology. People shrunk down means less waste, less over-population problems and less environmental damage. But, it also throws question at economical issues, the right to vote (you have less impact on society when your society is completely separate) and how money when downsized is worth more, so people agreeing to the procedure might be running high debt in the “big” world. It even hints at social divides in the small world, as bad as our world, with people deliberately living in luxury because it is cheap.
But all of these things are put in the background, or front-loaded into the film. The rest of the film is following Paul (Matt Damon’s character) very closely in a frankly bizarre and thematically-lost series of events that mean nothing to anyone. A noisy neighbor (Christoph Waltz), his amputee Vietnamese cleaning lady (distinctly low-brow humour that becomes the film’s only high point), Paul getting high at a house party, and… well, I don’t want to spoil it, because the lengths this film goes to be utterly unseemly is something to behold.
Paul’s character doesn’t even seem to have an arc, he is distinctly flat. The film’s last five minutes indicates how “small things matter more than big things”, and that’s what the film was all about. But this revelation was far too late. Paul feels like he is living a life of servitude and wants to live for himself, yet ultimately he remains where he is… Yay? Even those who could be seen as the antagonists, a new “one percent” if you will, don’t really antagonize, they are virtually our allies.
I feel like if this film was written and/or directed by someone else, like Charlie Kaufman or Wes Anderson, it could have been a really witty, strangely dark or funny and quirky. As it is, Downsizing was just putting me to sleep.