Alexander Payne (Sideways,Nebraska) returns to theaters with a sci-fi twist. Downsizing is a heart-felt comedy that takes less is more to the extreme. It posits a world where science can shrink biological matter to mere centimeters. This allows for humans to "downsize" and reap the benefits of "going small". The rub being that the process is irreversible. The film sticks to Payne's usual exploration of the common man's issues. I found the first half of Downsizing to be tremendously entertaining. It's quirky to a point before falling prey to a heavy-handed third act. The performances are fantastic throughout with a breakout role for Vietnamese actress Hong Chau.
Matt Damon stars as Paul Safranek, a genteel everyman plodding through life's difficulties. His middle-class lifestyle is stretched to the brim after years of caring for his sick mother. After she passes, Paul and his wife, Audrey (Kristen Wiig), desire more than what they can currently afford. A new possibility arises after a chance meeting with old friends (Jason Sudeikis, Maribeth Monroe) at a party. They went through the downsizing process, and now live luxuriously in a tailored community for the small. The economic benefits plus the lessened impact on the environment seems like a no-brainer. Paul and Audrey decide to downsize, but the change is far more extreme than expected.
The haves and have not exist in the utopian idea of downsizing. The cold realities of capitalism did not disappear. Paul is disheartened to see a poverty class propping up the decadence of the rich. While everyone is indeed using vastly less materials, the ugliness and disparity of the "big" world has followed him to the small. The difference is that he didn't notice it before. He was too preoccupied with the rat race, the constant struggle to accrue more wealth. Paul begins an existential journey that grows his soul exponentially. He becomes a bigger person on the inside by going small.
Alexander Payne's great talent as a filmmaker is his ability to tell personal stories. He infuses his Omaha bred, mid-western values in every film. This is usually done with great nuance. Downsizing lays on the morality play pretty thick. It's fairly obvious where Payne is going in the first act. His message about the frailties of man, finding true love, and purpose is overblown. In that sense, there's not much to be truly discovered here on a philosophical level. Payne should have held back on the preachiness in his script. It would have made the film less sappy at the end.
From Paramount Pictures, Downsizing is a funny and creative film that dissolves into a melodramatic finale. It's not on par with Payne's earlier masterpieces like Election or The Descendants, but is certainly worth seeing. Matt Damon, Cristoph Waltz, and Hong Chau are likeable leads that add humanity. The "small" gags are sprinkled throughout to keep the laughs flowing. A liter of vodka goes a long way in one of the better scenes. Payne could have easily downsized the length. Downsizing runs long at a stiff two hours and fifteen minutes.