The latest film from Alexander Payne, who directed and co-wrote the script with Jim Taylor, is a very odd piece of work. In fact, it seems as unsure of itself as the main character, messily mixing together a sense of fun with some mixed messages about the way in which the human race can best move forward while attempting to undo the harm it has caused to this planet.
The basic plot revolves around the fact that science has perfected, pretty much, the ability to shrink things. Materials, products, even humans. And not only is that great for the environment, it can allow the humans to have a better quality of life. Which leads to Paul Safranek (Matt Damon) and his wife, Audrey (Kristen Wiig), wanting to give it a go. Things don't quite go to plan, and Paul finds himself in the downsized world with a telemarketing job, a fairly lonely life, and a sense that he isn't doing all that he wanted to do, despite not knowing what that is. An encounter with his more carefree neighbour (Dusan, played by Christoph Waltz) starts to open his eyes to ways in which he can improve his life, and the lives of others in the smaller communities.
Despite good performances from everyone involved, with Hong Chaun portraying the other main character not yet mentioned (a political activist who was downsized and now works as a house cleaner), Downsizing just can't overcome the fact that it is lacking focus. The opening sequences of the film show a sense of wonder, while also showing the division that also comes about from such major social change. The middle shows Damon adjusting to his situation and has a bit of fun with the fact that he is, ironically enough, still not thinking of the big picture. And then things get looser and more meandering as we move towards a finale that feels unsatisfying and, well, lacking any real impact or risk.
The script tries to get viewers to look at moments that it deems meaningful and important, and Payne directs in line with this, but it doesn't ever feel as if those moments really deserve the attention they get. And that's a shame for the likes of Damon, Waltz, and Chaun, all acting above and beyond the limitations of the whole thing. There are also enjoyable small turns (no pun intended) from Udo Kier, Jason Sudiekis, James Van Der Beek, Neil Patrick Harris, Laura Dern, and more. It's also a shame that the visuals aren't allowed to be as dazzling and impressive as they could be. This isn't a film about being shrunk down and looking at the giant world around you in awe. It's a film about being shrunk down and living in an environment that often matches that. But there still could have been one or two more moments that emphasise the wonder of it all.
As it stands, Downsizing is a lesser film from Payne. It fails to live up to its potential. Ironic.
Here is a link to order the American disc.