Downsizing represents a departure from a filmography built on incisive character studies and black comedy; Alexander Payne imbues his latest with a broader tonal register, and with mixed results. The film takes place at some point in the near future, where breakthroughs in cellular reduction have resulted in the ability to shrink people to approximately five centimetres in height, a proposed solution to the earth’s climate and overpopulation issues. After some introductory exposition, the film plays as a one-note joke for 45 minutes with every punchline amounting to “short people problems.”
Thankfully, what feels like aimlessness in the first half evolves into something more postmodern. In fact, the CliffsNotes version of this script demands Vonnegut comparisons: Paul Safronek (Matt Damon) experimentally shrinks himself, becomes untethered from meaningful existence, meets and bonds with a Vietnamese dissident, Ngoc Lan Tran (Hong Chau, a standout), who was shrunk as punishment and sent to Oregon in a TV box, and ultimately ends up in Norway visiting the test group-cum-doomsday cult founded by the original scientist of this technology. While all this helps to alleviate a tenuous narrative through-line, particularly as the film begins to concern itself with the potential ramifications of such a world-altering technology, it doesn’t quite compensate for the placidity and silliness of Paul’s core existential crises, or his flirtation with deterministic serendipity.
Published as part of Toronto International Film Festival 2017 | Dispatch 1.