There are some directors who the critical world looks at as if they cannot do wrong. Christopher Nolan, Steven Spielberg, Wes Anderson among others. So when they make a bad movie, some critics like it juts because of who the filmmaker is. That might not be a fair criticism, but it is just the way I see it.
This is one of those times. Alexander Payne has had a great deal of successes over his career, but Downsizing is not one of them. Still, I hear some critics claiming that there are “big ideas” or “concepts beyond. I even saw one review that said that “Payne’s undiluted vision is admirable, and you almost owe it to him to try it out.”
I am afraid that I do not owe him anything. In fact, I would go as far as to say that he owes me more than what he gave me in Downsizing.
Matt Damon stars in the film as Paul Safranek, a physical therapist who is barely making it. He and his wife Audrey (Kristen Wiig) decide to join up with the newest attempt to “save the planet” by reducing their size down to five inches. The downsizing process was discovered by a scientist in Norway named Dr. Jorgen Asbjørnsen (Rolf Lassgård) and the world was going small. Of course, most people were not downsizing for the sake of the planet. Instead, because their consumption is so much less, people’s money goes so much farther.
Paul and Audrey make the decision to go small. Paul went through with it, but Audrey bailed at the last minute. And then, in their divorce settlement, Paul wound up about the same place that he was before.
There are several problems with the movie. The biggest one is that there is not much of a story. It feels more like a combination of scenes pushed together. There is not much of a narrative. Things happen. Paul reacts. Then something else happens. In the end, the film winds up in a very strange place that is not expected and feels as if there is too much preaching of a message going on.
Hong Cho plays a character named Ngoc Lan Tran, who is introduced about half way through as a character and then suddenly from out of nowhere, is a love interest. There is little chemistry with these two actors and Hong Cho makes a strange choice with an accent that is borderline stereotypical.
Christoph Waltz is here as Paul’s upstairs neighbor Dusan who is one of the more fun aspects of the film. Waltz seems to be having a blast playing this character who has no concerns or regrets. Honestly, there is not much more to the character than that, but he was a breath of fresh air here.
In the end, this is a satire that has an agenda to push. There is too much of a message and way too little of plot.