Adding to the sub-genre ofbody-shrinking Sci-Fi cinema, like Marvel’s ANT-MAN (2015), Alexander Payne’s long-in-gestation passion project DOWNSIZING emerges as a damp squib since its premier in Venice as the opening picture, both critically panned and tanked in the box office front, adding insult to injury by Matt Damon’s inappropriate opinion apropos of the raging MeToo movement, it is a pity Payne’s grand design is so scornfully overlooked.
The central concept here is at once scintillating and grandiose, an irreversible “downsizing” process that compresses a normal human being into five-inch high, with its perks both humanistic (an eco-friendly last resort to earth’s overpopulation quandary) and pragmatic (drastically increasing the value of one’s money), you can see the appeal which drives the Omaha-resided Paul Safranek (Damon) and his wife Audrey (Wiig) to take the option on board, only the latter balks at the last minute to impel a downcast Paul to push that reset button in a mini-sized yet not very much different society, where social hierarchy takes its shape with a less costly criterion. From hobnobbing with his jet-setting neighbor Dušan (Waltz. hilariously obnoxious or vice versa) to dancing to the tunes of a Vietnamese political dissident Ngoc Lan Tran (Chau), who is downsized against her will, and the sole survivor of a smuggling attempt inside a TV set, which cost her one lower leg, and now works as a menial housecleaner but still devotes herself in helping those who are less fortunate, Paul hits the whole gamut.
So, what downsizing substantially alters is neither his milieu or the quality of life, but proffers an opportunity for Paul to meet new acquaintances, and in particular Ngoc Lan Tran, through whom he finds an elusive connection mingled with compassion, admiration and affection, and realizes what is the right thing to do when a second irrevocable option beckons. That said, Hong Chau’s live-wire versatility is moderately crippled by Payne and his co-writerJim Taylor’s hackneyed treatment of Asian immigrant (coarse, bossy but not surprisingly with a heart of gold), and the short end of the stick she receives from a white-skinned middle-aged ordinary Joe,who patronizes her with a resigned obedience, and their ensuing romance is pointedly cringe-worthy under its context. On the other hand Damon is exceptionally nondescript to a point that we reckon even a one-legged Ngoc is too good for him, alas, a film with the same idea and production value can never veer its focal point to the minority character, which might reflect DOWNSIZING’s retrograde core in the face of a futuristic conception.
A food-for-thought premise undermined by its inborn corollary, DOWNSIZING only touches on the resultant strife between the big and the small communities (through a cameo from Patrick Gallagher), a topic has much more potential to burrow into than the simpler do-the-good-things boilerplate which we are received after its third act steeped in a Nordic Noah’s ark evacuation, a missed opportunity nevertheless, Payne’s film still can comfortably appease a none-too-judgemental soul withits eye-pleasing visual snappiness and a never-too-late message that is anything but vacuous.
referential films: Peyton Reed’s ANT-MAN (2015, 7.0/10); Payne’s NEBRASKA (2013, 8.3/10), THE DESCENDANTS (2011, 8.1/10).