Max Redmond Smith on Alexander Payne’s ‘Downsizing’ (2017)
A ground-breaking scientific discovery revolutionises the world when Dr. Jorgen Asbjornsen (Rolf Lassgard) makes possible the physical “downsizing” of humans. Paul Safranek (Matt Damon) and his wife, Audrey (Kristen Wiig), decide that they would have a better social and financial life by undergoing the irreversible procedure to downsize. Downsizing communities experience zero crime, good financial exchange rates, and are just all together utopian, or seemingly so.
As it turns out, downsizing is not idyllic for all. Alexander Payne (Nebraska) directs what begins as a witty and acerbic take on classic divide and contemporary society, suturing in political and environmental issues for good measure. However, despite this imaginative concept that takes it into satirical sci-fi, the concept soon becomes banal within forty minutes. Kristin Wiig, the comic highlight of the film, it left at the by-side and never to return, taking with her the potential of a film that is left to squander with Paul and the “small” world alone.
Thereafter, Paul meanders, and life in the small world is one of extravagance, populated by the nouveau-riche and, in more ways than one, the petit-bourgeoisie. The big/small dichotomy is forgotten, for we never see the “big” world again, and with it the entire significance of downsizing is jettisoned as the fundamental opposition between little and large has been erased. The film is now perhaps best titled, ‘Paul’s Odyssey’. But this association to Homer is perhaps insulting, for Downsizing then rapidly spirals into lazy comedy reliant on hackneyed stereotypes and passé gross lad humour that feels a decade old. Even the initially complex Ngoc Lan Tran (Hong Chau), the empowered dissident turned housemaid is reduced to an offensive racial stereotype that just makes for an uncomfortable viewing experience.
And so Downsizing becomes merely a vehicle for limply written jokes met by a cold audience reception, all the “issues” of the film become entangled in ridiculous Biblical allusions designed to engender laughter rather than thought. Only the film’s astounding inexhaustibility could provoke a laughter of disbelief as the film continues to shrink and shrink into nothing in particular.
Release: 24 January 2018