‘Downsizing' is worse than bad, it's bland (Review By Subhash K. Jha ; Rating: **)
It is heartbreaking to see so much earnestness being squandered away in
inertia. "Downsizing" is a well-meaning jibe at global devastation done in a
tone so steeped in righteous indignation, I thought I was watching an
evangelical propaganda film with angels and fairies flapping their invisible
wings into the fuzzy camera lenses.
Director Alexander Payne, no stranger to tall tales about short-term beneficiaries messing up with their game plans, here goes for the whole mood of ecological regret with a heartbreaking earnestness. As a piece of propaganda on how we can save civilization, "Downsizing" has an in-eradicable cuteness at its heart which is borderline annoying.
The plot is constantly cloying, as our protagonist Paul (Matt Damon, looking so detached from the goings-on, he could be the most reluctant inaction hero in the history of cinema) decides to go for a ‘downsizing' procedure that would reduce him and his wife (Kristen Wiig) to 20 times smaller than their normal size.
The benefits of downsizing are explained in what could easily have been devilish digs at governmental control of our destiny (we all know what that feels like). But no. Director Alexander Payne, so inured in enchanting ambiguities in his 2005 film "Sideways", means every word his characters utter. They are good people caught in a catastrophic situation.
We get that.
This is a work filled wth invisible conffetti dropping from heaven in every frame. The only time it gets close to being remotely mischievous is when Damon's wife chickens out of the downsizing procedure at the last minute leaving him fuming and desolate in a la-la land where 5-inch human beings live in 5-star luxury.
The etherized environment halts only when a Vietnamese downsized refugee played by Hong Chau, with the most grating singsong South Asian accent ever heard in cinema, joins hands with Damon to help, nurse and feed the poor. Hong Chau orders Damon around as if she was taking revenge on all the wrongs that Harvey Weinstein had done to all the women in the entertainment business.
All through this dreadfully self-righteous film, I felt there was a catch somewhere. Maybe I was missing the point? But then with a jolt of awakening, I realized the whole point of the shrinking exercize is to spotlight man-made catastrophes as weighed against cinema's ability to alchemize and assuage the pain of everyday existence.
"Downsizing" tries to elevate the process of shrinking human beings by imbuing a moral edification to the process of shrinking humans physically. Sorry, I saw no joy in becoming smaller to save humanity. How about saving us from having to watch such joyless excursions into la la land?
'Downsizing': A strangely complex masterpiece (Review By Troy Ribeiro, Rating: ***1/2)
"Downsizing" is a strikingly intelligent concept film.
A romance and self-realisation tale wrapped in a sci-fi film that makes you aware of environmental issues is what definitely makes it unique fare. It is a social satire wrapped in a sci-fi movie that does not, for a second, look and feel like one.
Nevertheless, the film achieves a strange harmony from its assorted thematic ingredients and certainly produces unexpected and compelling surges of emotion at odd moments.
Dealing with the long-term viability of humanity's existence on this planet, the scientists at Edwardsen Institute in Norway hit upon a perfect process of shrinking human beings to the height of 5 inches. According to them, these shrunken people need much fewer resources and would thus be able to save our planet's resources.
Fifteen years after the invention which is an irreversible process, physiotherapist Paul Safranek (Matt Damon) and his wife Audrey, a struggling American couple unhappy with their financial status, during an alumni meet, get inspired by their classmates Dave and Carol Johnson, who have "downsized".
Believing that their lives would be enhanced if they were to shrink themselves and be transferred to the new world call Leisureland, Paul and Audrey decide to take the plunge.
Of course, complications ensue, including marital strife and Paul's discovery that all is not quite what is seems in his new environment.
Disappointed and dejected in Liesureland, Paul leads a staid life. So when Dusan (Christoph Waltz), his upstairs neighbour -- an opportunist who, along with his friend Kondrad (Udo Kier) makes money by importing miniaturized versions of Cigars and other such luxury items -- invites him to a house party, he reluctantly accepts the invitation.
After the party, Paul by chance meets a Vietnamese political activist named Ngoc Lan Tran (Hong Chau). Seeing her walk with a faulty prosthetic foot, he befriends her. He then gets fascinated with her struggle. How she then changes his entire life and worldview, forms the crux of the tale.
Despite its meandering pace and unassuming plot, the film at no specific point goes off the rails. The initial first hour definitely drags. Once the narrative picks up momentum in the second half, there is no looking back. You don't expect the film to take a dramatic turn but it really will have you thinking hard about the world we live in.
The third act, though predictable and incredibly ambitious, is eye-opening and lands the film where it strives to be.
On many accounts, this is an impressive film. Among them is the astounding performance by Hong Chau. She comes in at the halfway mark and just takes over completely, single-handedly elevating the film with her tragic, comic, caustic and lovable character Ngoc.
At no point do you laugh at her status, ethnicity or broken English. Yet you laugh because she is a force of nature that blows away the pretensions of others -- which she does with her straight yet unexpected nature and honest, cut-the-chase communication.
Matt Damon as the dull lead who goes on a journey of discovery is serviceable and the fault lies not with his performance. The problem is with the writing. Paul remains a bore from the beginning to the end.
Christoph Waltz does justice as the flamboyant Dusan. He is intriguing, but with a half-baked character, he is lost in the narrative.
From a technical standpoint, the film is almost flawless. The production and sound designs, costumes, visual effects, cinematography and editing are all immaculate.
Overall, "Downsizing" is a complex masterpiece which is convincing but not unfamiliar.
When scientists discover how to shrink humans to five inches tall as a solution to over-population, Paul (Matt Damon) and his wife Audrey (Kristen Wiig) decide to abandon their stressed lives in order to get small and move to a new downsized community-a choice that triggers life-changing adventures.