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Downsizing review: Matt Damon’s quirky adventure loses its way quickly
Matt Damon, before he shrinks (Picture: Paramount)

Downsizing isn’t the sort of film you would expect from the director of Nebraska, Sideways or The Descendants.

Alexander Payne’s previous work often dealt with quirky characters, but their journeys have always been rooted in the grittiness of reality. His new film does have a lot of pertinent questions to ask, but the concept is a little different, to say the least.

The story is set in a future where, to combat mankind’s overpopulation problems, scientists have developed the ability to shrink humans to five inches. The result is needing a fraction of the water, land, and other resources, plus one side effect of the process for many is that their money goes further, living a much more comfortable life.

This attracts Paul and Audrey (Matt Damon and Kristin Wiig), a couple who take the plunge with dreams of something bigger.

Problems occur, however, when Paul wakes from the irreversible process to find Audrey has pulled out, and so will be leaving him.

Confronted with a new life he didn’t anticipate, Paul moves into miniature paradise Leisure Land where he discovers, with the help of a former Vietnamese dissident named Ngoc Lan Tran (Hong Chau) that the problems of the larger world are just as present.

The high concept, fantastic world we are introduced to in the first act is fun to dive into. The vicarious curiosity of starting a new life, of hacking society’s financial structures, makes for interesting viewing. It’s also gratifying to see a director so talented at working with traditional film making techniques become so adept with more adventurous effects; the blending between the small and large worlds feels seamless, with a visual style that doesn’t feel like an effects-fest.

Once Paul enters Leisure Land, however, is when things start to unravel. As he shrinks, the film’s pace grinds to a crawl as the number of possibilities presented by the concept starts to overwhelm the story.

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It’s a darkly comic satire of our future and present, broaching subjects such as our uncertain environmental future, the gap between rich and poor (Downsizing is revealed to be most beneficial for those with means, whereas the poor are ‘just small’).

There’s a lot to digest, too much in fact.

Ideas are picked up and abandoned, as we travel along a main plot that doesn’t feel as urgent as it should be.

At least the cast are having a good time; Damon is an excellent choice for the role, playing the quietly frustrated Everyman with the same ease that he did in last year’s Suburbicon.

Co-star Chau adds a lot of different layers to her performance, although it’s hard not to feel uncomfortable with her stereotypical Vietnamese accent.

Tarantino regular Christoph Waltz brings a lot of sleazy charm as Paul’s neighbour, a Serbian playboy with a penchant for parties and not-entirely-legal side businesses, and while it’s a brief role Wiig nails the twisted comedy in a role originally meant for Reese Witherspoon, who Payne last worked with in 1999’s Election.

Like the process itself, Downsizing is an initially good idea that peters out as things progress.

Many viewers will love the prospect such an ambitious discussion of society, but most will struggle to claim those ideas were fully realised.

MORE: Matt Damon backs out of Downsizing premiere after backlash to sexual misconduct comments

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