Alexander Payne’s ‘Downsizing’ is a film that has so much potential; a seemingly original premise, social commentary, and promising visuals. A surefire contender for the Oscars! Payne (who also did ‘Election’, ‘Sideways’, and ‘The Descendants’) even tries his damnedest to get the look and feel of a world this small right; yet sadly, there are so many missed opportunities, making it seem like your average everyday drama about breathing in life, and enjoying the little moments before they are gone forever. (No pun intended on the “little”.)
What I am saying may not sound so bad at first, but if you were to take a trip into Payne’s seemingly innovative world for two hours, you would probably feel disinterested in what you are experiencing; at least, that is what I felt. Honestly, I expected a lot more from ‘Downsizing’ and its many possibilities. For those who do not know what ‘Downsizing’ is about, it wants to be a social commentary about decreasing population and saving the planet. “How?”, you may ask. Norwegian scientist, Dr. Jorgen Asbjørnsen (Rolf Lassgård) has developed an immunity serum which can shrink a person down from his or her normal size down to five inches tall.
Cut to fifteen years later; a third of the population is now small due to this supposedly environmentally friendly procedure. During a high school reunion, physical therapist Paul Safranek, (Matt Damon) and his wife Audrey (Kristen Wiig) encounter the now small Dave and Carol Johnson, (Jason Sudeikis and Maribeth Monroe) who convince them how good the small life is. This inspires both Paul and Audrey to undergo the procedure, (which takes five hours in movie time) and live in Leisureland; a tiny utopia where the newly small can live their lives in luxury and fulfill their dreams. However, as small as Leisureland is, it is much like any regular city, except items that used to be small are now large, and can be delivered to your door by miniature delivery men (wedding rings, the head of a flower, you name it.)
As far as scope and scale goes, (besides a few sight gags here and there) Payne does not deliver in terms of creativity or innovation, leaving us on a journey we do not want to continue. In fact, most of the time, we see Paul trying to adjust to his new life, dealing with his new upstairs neighbor Dusan, (Christoph Waltz) who basically has the same welcoming, albeit tell-it-like-it-is demeanor that Waltz seems to display in almost every role he plays, and getting involved with Ngoc Lan Tran, (Hong Chau) a Vietnamese protester who was downsized by the government by force. If not for its premise, ‘Downsizing’ would be just a fine Oscar contender, as it should be. Its problem is how much Payne and co-writer Jim Taylor forget what purpose its message is serving.