Written and directed by Alexander Payne (Sideways, Nebraska), downsizing takes us into the near future when a new procedure that shrinks people to the height of five inches is introduced in order to minimize waste around the globe. After meeting a friend who has undergone the process, Paul Safranek (Matt Damon) and his wife, Audrey (Kristen Wiig) decide to be downsized themselves, seeking financial freedom and a fresh start in the tiny town of Leisureland. Then, when his wife abandons him at the last minute, Paul finds himself alone and lost in his new life. However, after he encounters his neighbour’s house cleaner, Ngoc Lan Tran (Hong Chau), Paul’s eyes are opened to see the painful truths that lie underneath the benefits of the downsizing initiative.
Developed in the gap between Sideways and The Descendants, downsizing is an ambitious film that never fully reaches its potential. In essence, this high concept film feels like a story that has a great deal to say but doesn’t fully have the words to express it. Despite a really interesting premise and solid performances from its cast (especially Hong Chau who steals the film in every way), downsizing still struggles in focus and pacing at times, keeping it from achieving the heights of some of Payne’s better works.
One of the more interesting aspects of the film though is its interest in discussing the ineffectiveness of escape. While downsizing markets itself as a comedy about the madcap adventures of making one’s self smaller, the film fights to be more of a thoughtful piece about the fact that we cannot run from life’s biggest issues. Offering people a fresh start with seemingly limitless finances in return for shrinking themselves, the move to Leisureland (in itself a reminder of the freedom that awaits) doesn’t fully live up to expectations. Regardless of their height, every person who is downsized still suffers in some way, whether its socially, financially or emotionally.
Although they preach financial stability, Paul quickly discovers that Leisureland features the same social injustices of poverty, division that existed before he downsized. Despite the fact that the downsizing program is supposed to alleviate fears of global warming, Paul soon realizes that the problems are more imminent than he’d believed. Even the anticipation and excitement of starting over in his marriage takes a hit when Paul finds himself dealing with the emotional scars of divorce and loneliness. In doing so, the film serves as a reminder that denial of these issues never brings about true change.
In many ways, downsizing is a reminder that the brightest light of hope lies not within the trappings of our culture but in our ability to take a stand for values that are beyond ourselves. Adjusting the size of the human race offers no recompense for the brokenness of their hearts that requires hope, help and healing. Instead, downsizing calls us to ownership and to face our fears, rather than run from them. It’s both an appeal to stare down the issues our world faces and invitation to join in the fight against them.
Though, to be fair, you may want to shrink your expectations a little.
downsizing is in theatres now.