By now, many have seen the trailers for Downsizing, the new Matt Damon film in which a number of the Earth’s population undergoes a process of miniaturization supposedly for the betterment of the world. But while the trailers do highlight some of the more humorous moments of the film, like Matt Damon, you should all get ready for the transition.
The Alexander Payne-directed film does suffer a bit from trying to figure out what it wants to be, much like its central character of Paul Safranek (Matt Damon). The film starts off as a bit of a light comedy with some social commentary as Safranek and his wife Audrey (Kristen Wiig) struggle through their day-to-day life trying to make ends meet. Paul is a people pleaser, often going out of his way for others, and wanting to give his wife what he thinks she desires. Upon reconnecting with a college friend (Jason Sudeikis) who got “small,” Paul is intrigued by the fresh start it seems to have given him and he and Audrey investigate joining Leisureland, one of the top resort establishments where their paltry savings translates to a sizable windfall.
The “size” jokes are sly and the actual resizing process is an intriguing visual, but poor Paul hopes for the future he always wanted to give his wife are dashed when she has second thoughts at the last minute, leaving him miniaturized and she skirting off to her family and friends leaving him high and dry. But while the early portion of the film seemed light and bouncy, the remainder is more of a dramatic piece with Paul finding his place in a new world.
A downtrodden Paul spends his next year separating from his wife, moving from his luxurious house to an apartment, taking a miserable job in telemarketing after giving up his occupational therapist position in the real world and seemingly wandering adrift in his new world. But his loud and very frank upstairs neighbor Dusan (Christoph Waltz) takes Paul under his wing and introduces him to a new world. It is through this association with Dusan and a number of his associates that Paul begins to start his journey to understanding who he is within the changing world around him.
Dusan is a capitalist cad, finding the ways to exploit the downsized world, who also employs a Vietnamese activist named Ngoc Lan Tran (Hong Chou) who was imprisoned and downsized before losing her leg in a human trafficking operation. It’s Paul’s fascination with Ngoc that begins his transformation, first reclaiming a bit of his old self through assisting with her leg, and then being increasingly pulled into her orbit. Through his journey of self-discovery, Paul suffers a few highs and lows, but his hopefulness remains key to the film’s pacing and plot.
While there are light moments in Downsizing, it becomes more of a think piece, with Damon’s character thrust into situations we all may eventually face within our own lives. His journey is one worth following and one that will no doubt have the audience questioning how they would handle the same situations, which could be inevitable within our world. Downsizing is part comedy, part social commentary, part wake-up call for our future, which at times is uneven, but is fully worthy following. The film may not be for everyone, but it’s a movie that should make you think and have you talking upon leaving the theater.