A perfect example of a movie that works better as an idea than an actual film. Co-writer/Director Alexander Payne (Election, The Descendents, Nebraska, About Schmidt) always seems to center his films around a loveable loser, and in this case, it’s Paul Safranek (Matt Damon), an occupational therapist from Omaha, Nebraska (my hometown, and Payne’s) whose job, wife (Kristin Wiig) and future are all lacking. Safranek and his wife are drawn to the idea of “downsizing” the new practice of shrinking yourself to reduce your carbon footprint and help save the world. It’s an irreversible process, and when he wakes up five inches tall, Paul learns that made the one-way trip alone.
The trailer bills Downsizing as a goofy comedy, and while its premise is certainly ripe for hilarious commentary, everything important was covered in the trailers. That his wife doesn’t join him is a spoiler that should’ve been left as a surprise, but knowing that going into it, it robs the first third of the movie from any impact. Honestly, the movie takes so long to get to Safranek’s new shrunken paradise, tediously covering the science and the global reaction to it, that it seems to have little time left to actually explore that world. Paul hangs with his hedonistic neighbor (Christoph Waltz, enjoying every bit of scenery he’s nibbling on) and befriends a hardworking housekeeper (Hong Chau) who is a Vietnamese dissident amputee whose focus has never wavered from trying to help others.
Chau is delightful and a breath of fresh air in an otherwise breathless film that waffles between drama and comedy without committing or succeeding at either one. The last-minute stakes feel entirely too tacked on, and all the dilemmas, conundrums, ethical and moral issues that the film posits are never really explored, merely shelved in the service of another platitude about helping others. Wiig, Jason Sudeikis, Margo Martindale, Neil Patrick Harris, and Laura Dern all make brief stops (nearly every scene appears in the trailer) and do little to inject the film with any life. It’s all so very disappointing, even if the movie at least scratches the surface of something interesting. It was nice to see Omaha again.
My Grade – C