Oh this’ll be fun.
I don’t usually walk out of films. I’m not that kind of person. The last time I walked out of a film was Killing Them Softly; that Brad Pitt film no one really remembers. We left that film because my brother had fallen asleep and had school the next day. I blamed my lectures for making me walk out of Downsizing, whilst in hindsight, I didn’t actually like the film all that much.
Downsizing is Fox Searchlight’s upcoming release starring Matt Damon, intended to tackle most of the world’s problems with an eccentric sci-fi solution. It premiered at the BFI London Film Festival before it hits cinemas later this year. I was actually really excited for this, the trailer looked stunning. However, trailers, as I’ve now learned, can be very deceiving. That means it did its job though.
Before we get into it, the film did possess a few redeeming qualities. The concept was pretty interesting; the solution to a dying Earth is to shrink a portion of the population down to about 13cm in size to live in smaller communities that produce less waste. The thing that caught my eye (being the broke, proletariat university student that I am) is how the value of your currency in big people world is worth so much more in little people world. Economies of scale, I guess. (That was a really good joke that’ll go unappreciated.) Imagine having one dollar to your name, shrinking yourself down, and then wake up with a thousand. If I remember the scales correctly, I think that’s what it was.
I came for Kristen Wiig and Jason Sudeikis and saw them for a little bit in the film. As a longtime SNL stan, naturally I wanted more of them. Wiig plays Damon’s wife who eventually abandons him right before her Downsizing procedure, and Sudeikis plays an old friend who decided to get small.
What I thought was interesting about the film as well was how they showed this slippery slope often associated with self-preservation and the greater good. The idea of a greater good is once again corrupted by man’s greed. I’ll give them props for that; rather than idealizing and glorifying the concept for the rest of the film, it showed a very real side to all this problem solving; people are still going to suffer. There are downsides (no pun intended) to every utopian society; no society can ever be truly utopian.
Take the Ngoc Lac Tran (Hong Chau). She was shrunk against her will, escaped to America, only to live in poverty and permanent damage to her leg. She’s probably my favourite character throughout the whole film. It’s always good to see a Southeast Asian sister up on the big screen. Tran was a freedom fighter in Vietnam, and escaped via an imported flat screen TV to Target megastore. She resides on the outskirts of Leisureland in what seemed to be the downsized equivalent to the projects, and does so much to help her community. Though I was a huge fan of her character, I would have totally loved to have seen smarter writing when it comes to humour; she’s often used as the comedic relief as well as emotional catalyst, but the way they milk her for laughs usually plays to stereotypes about Asian immigrants and Asian women.
Paul Sefranek (Matt Damon) is a former physiotherapist that goes through such an immense (ha more size jokes) physical change, but very little emotional change. A lot of Sefranek’s characterisation is as this bright-eyed midwesterner passionate about making a better life, to dull-eyed midwesterner still in awe of this new technology but slowly coming to realise the darker sides of what he thought was this perfect new world.
I’m not going to lie, it’s a very human film. However, it felt like I was watching eight different films strung together; there were so many title cards showing the passage of time that I just didn’t see the point anymore. I’m sure the whole point of the story was not to follow the journey of this one man, but of how this Downsizing innovation really progresses through our society. But it made the film so winding and disengaging that it stopped working as a story. I think that was it’s biggest issue; it’d be so cool to see this as a TV show or limited series, as you can definitely explore all the different points of view surrounding this subject and then connecting them all together. But as a film, it wasn’t enough to just have a fascinating concept, it needed to be visually and emotionally more compelling.
The visual effects were a feat, it’s always cute to see regular sized things suddenly become giant because you’re protagonist is now the size of a plastic ruler, and representations of excess luxury is always a thrill for us prols, but other than that, the cinematography wasn’t anything special.
Nothing about it stood out, when there were so many ways that it could’ve.
Downsizing hits cinemas December 22 this year in the UK.