Shrinking and finding yourself are the centerpiece for director Alexander Payne’s Downsizing.
Paul (Matt Damon) and Audrey Safranek (Kristen Wig) are a married couple in Omaha with financial issues. At a high-school reunion, they encounter Dave (Jason Sudeikis) and Carol Johnson (Marubeth Monroe) who have “downsized,” an irreversible process invented 15 years earlier that involves shrinking humans to a height of five inches. While the inventors advocate that downsizing is environmentally friendly through the reduction of waste, Dave argues its benefits extend far beyond that, and improve one’s life through the increase in value of their money.
Exploring the possibilities of downsizing, Paul and Audrey agree to undergo the process and move to Leisureland, one of the most popular communities for small individuals. After undergoing downsizing, Paul receives a call from Audrey, saying that she was unable to go through the procedure and opting out at the last minute, and will be leaving him.
All of this occurs within the first forty-five minutes or so of the movie and from there the film takes a different turn. At its heart Downsizing is more about a journey of self-discovery and less about the shrinking aspect. From the start of the film it’s clear that Paul is unhappy in life, and even within in the first year of shrinkage, Paul appears to be alive, not really living.
It’s isn’t until Paul meets his upstairs neighbor Dusan Mirkovic (Christoph Waltz) and cleaning lady Ngoc Lan Tran (the excellent Hong Chau) that he really begins to live. Payne and his frequent writing partner Jim Taylor have crafted a different kind of film. Payne could have easily have made a big budgeted effect filled comedy but instead he gives us a social satire.
On one hand that hurt the film for me, as I would have loved to see a shrunken man react to some of the modern marvels of current technology. On the other hand, it helped the film, as an hour into the film, I forgot that Paul and his counterparts were five inches tall, and I began to see them as normal sized people.
Damon & Waltz give their usual reliable performances, as do Sudeikis and Wig in their limited roles. The real standout for me was Hong Chau, as Ngoc Lan Tran. In her role of Ngoc, Chau manages to not only have some of the best lines in the film but steal every scene she’s in, and I’m hoping this role leads to more work for her some nominations come awards season.
While Downsizing may not be the comedy the trailers make it out to be, it is an adult orientated drama that is worth a matinee.
Final Grade: C+