Susan Granger’s review of “Downsizing” (Paramount Pictures)
Based on a visionary ecological concept by director Alexander Payne and his longtime collaborator Jim Taylor, this ambitious social satire soon becomes more of a slog than a sci-fi adventure.
Representing Everyman, mild-mannered Paul Safranek (Matt Damon) is an occupational therapist at the Omaha Steak Company who, along with his wife Audrey (Kristen Wiig), dreams of being able to afford the good life – someday.
As the world faces an overpopulation crisis, scientists develop an ingenious solution that can shrink humans to five inches tall. And, as a Norwegian doctor (Rolf Lassgard) points out, in a miniature world, money goes a lot further, meaning that an average, middle-class couple can live like millionaires.
Captivated by a pep talk from former classmate Dave Johnson (Jason Sudekis) and seduced by the promise of luxuries beyond their wildest dreams, Paul and Audrey agree to undergo the controversial – and irreversible – procedure in Leisureland. But at the last minute, Audrey gets terrified, leaving Paul in the mini-world without her.
At this point, the intriguing tone changes completely. The once-sharp ‘small’ humor disappears, along with the core premise, giving way to poignancy and, ultimately, predictability.
Paul is befriended by his hedonistic neighbor, Dusan (Christoph Waltz), whose ‘maid’ is Ngoc Lan Tran (Hong Chau), a Vietnamese refugee, limping on an ill-fitting prosthetic leg. She introduces Paul to the impoverished ‘miniature masses’ who dwell in tenements outside Leisureland’s walls, changing his perspective of this so-called utopia.
Eventually, they wind up in Norway, where Paul learns that an ecological disaster is imminent. As this apocalypse looms, the once-fascinating shrinkage concept becomes irrelevant.
What a letdown from Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor, who scored with “Election,” “Nebraska,” and “About Schmidt”! While Hong Chau is memorable in her sensitive supporting role, this is Matt Damon’s second ‘hapless loser’ failure in a row, following “Suburbicon.”
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Downsizing” is a disappointing 5. As one wag already quipped, “Honey, they shrunk the fun!”