A social satire in which a guy realizes he would have a better life if he were to shrink himself.
Downsizing imagines (and rightly so) how our world is completely strapped. Whether it be financial burdens, relationship anxieties, or environmental devastation, we are under pressure and undeniably stressed out. The titular phrase has to do with cutting corners, not by the elimination of employees in the workplace, but the literal shrinking of human size. In theory, less resources are used, money flows wildly (some $50,000 equates to millions!), and entertainment and enjoyment are in the foreground, full-time. It’s no wonder this is an attractive way out of our problems.It’s particularly appealing to Paul (Matt Damon, at his everyman finest) and his wife Audrey (Kristen Wiig). An occupational therapist having only just paid off his student loans in his forties, a tip from a friend (Jason Sudeikis) sends Paul well on his way to Leisureland, a place that rings a bit like a Disneyland park, to live like a king and queen. We never really get to see Paul at his height of enjoyment since Audrey, unable to leave her family and friends, divorces Paul after his medical downsizing procedure. Downsizing addresses the myth that by running away, we’ll save ourselves from our problems and our anxieties. Yet no matter where we run, no matter how small we become, these issues always have a way of tracking us down. As a downsized man, Paul’s meaning is at first lost and squandered. He picks up a telemarketing job, goes on boring dates, and becomes your everyday cantankerous neighbor next door. But through a series of connections, first with a free-spirited serial partyer Dusan (Christoph Waltz) and then a Vietnamese cleaning lady and former activist Ngoc Lan Tran (Hong Chau, in the film’s most passionate and pungent performance), Paul learns that he doesn’t want to hide from his problems. His situation, which may have driven him into the worst, can be made new by helping those in need with his gifts and compassion. The film has a bit of an air of Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, and it certainly has the same flavor of social critique. But director Alexander Payne, in a most unusual misstep, paces the film so that, instead of a parable and a warning, we get an intriguing “what-if” premise for Act 1, a kooky day-in-the-life for Act 2, and an offbeat, toneless sort of docudrama for Act 3. This is a film that has wonderful things to say but just does not say them very convincingly. The art direction is admirable, and as mentioned, Chau ends up carrying the film on her back when she has her screen time. But Downsizing is a miscalculation, and an overly long one at that. It stuffs the mind with so much when so little is needed. Payne, who specializes in more microscopic “slice-of-life” pictures, bogs the film with so many details so that we know all about the act of downsizing. But the humor of the film really lies in what we don’t know, and what we don’t need to know. As a parable, it is all just a little too much to take in. The film has a lot of admirable messages, but the use of language and graphic nudity will keep Downsizing from receiving a seal of approval from Dove.