Film Review: Downsizing

Alexander Payne’s Downsizing is a satire on the environmental issues and society at large. It is entertaining and thought-provoking, but not entirely satisfying.

Occupational therapist Paul lives in a world where it is possible to shrink people down to live in tiny communities, in order to address overpopulation concerns. The more Paul finds out about this new society, the more he thinks it could be the life for him…

Directed and co-written by Alexander Payne, Downsizing‘s narrative focuses on an everyman protagonist and his interactions with both the full-size and miniature world. The film has a great premise which plays out as both a personal journey for the protagonist and a wider comment on society.

The ideas that Downsizing proposes are interesting ones. The film questions what a new society would be like, the issue of status, and finding one’s place in the world. Some of these are viewed through protagonist Paul, whilst others become clearer through the characters he interacts with.

The main negative of Downsizing is that for all the ideas floating round, the film ruminates too much on less interesting ones. There is a clear message here, and it is delivered with humour as not to be too preachy. The evolution of society that Payne presents feels plausible, if understandably disappointing.

Ngoc Lan Tran could have been a great character. However, it is a shame that making light of her accent is the path chosen instead of the strong interesting character she is first introduced as in a news segment. Her function is to help sharpen Paul’s mind more than anything else. Other supporting characters take the fun roles to allow for a meditative experience for Paul.

Matt Damon plays against type slightly, and does a good job as Paul. Christoph Waltz is always great value. He and Udo Kier inject a lot needed fun into the film. It is a shame that Hong Chau is not given more worthy lines to work with. For all of Alexander Payne’s talents, viewers may wish for a sharper screenplay. Nevertheless, Downsizing is still an entertaining watch.

Downsizing is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2017.

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