Downsizing movie review: A wan exposition of life

Written by Shalini Langer | New Delhi | Published: January 12, 2018 6:37 pm Downsizing movie review: Matt Damon and Kristen Wiig star in this Alexander Payne film.

Downsizing movie director: Alexander Payne
Downsizing movie cast: Matt Damon, Kristen Wiig, Christoph Waltz, Udo Kier Hong Chau
Downsizing movie rating: 2.5 stars

A director often striving for the soulful and solemn, Payne (Descendants, Nebraska) tries something different here. And, at first, it is a remarkable idea. Given that most of the Earth’s troubles can be traced to overpopulation, why not “downsize” people, literally? Bring them down to “0.03” per cent of their sizes, meaning they occupy lesser space, require lesser resources and, hence, leave a smaller carbon footprint. The idea takes off fast, and within 10 years, there are colonies of the small sprouting all around. Not surprisingly in the US, the country of the Big Mac, they have worked it down from the name (Leisure Land), to the last detail (houses, spa, sauna, food, even jewellery). There is even a “full-size flower mart” for those missing regular roses from the outside world.

It’s a great satirical comment, both on the consumerist world and on downsizing itself, originally meaning big firms letting off small people.

Who wouldn’t be tempted? Especially someone like Paul (Damon) and Audrey (Wiig), a married couple struggling with loans and to keep appearances up in the outside world. Told that their combine savings would be worth 10 times more in Leisure Land, they jump right in. And then, something happens. Even as Paul goes through with the procedure, Audrey chickens out.

That is a great film right there. Paul enters this Utopia (sketched out in great detail) all alone, bitter, doubtful and scared; Audrey is left outside, regretful but relieved. But what does Payne do with it?

The next two hours of the film are a wan exposition of life through many metaphors: New Mexico vs Mexico, Americans vs Europeans, West vs East, Big vs Small, with a Vietnamese woman (Hong Chou) thrown in presumably to ease the guilt and the indulgent exercise all this appears to be. Meanwhile, the Norwegian inventors of the downsizing concept come floating in, in loose-flowing hippie clothes, in dirty hair and pale smiles, to talk about Nature etc.

Rarely has a film about life seemed less life-like. Waltz in his half-demonic wide smile does stir some motion, but more and more of his roles now seem a parody of the original in Inglourious Basterds. Even if here he bunks with the unmatchable Udo Kier.

By the time the film veers around to its long-drawn end, what is clear that in its vision, few who don’t belong to the Western Hemisphere would survive the inevitable doomsday. The whiter, blonder, the more middle-aged (the young presumably want to live life full-size) the better. Except a lone sardar, who bravely pops up now and then, and nods wisely. And the few kurtas which, unsurprisingly, are the go-to wear for salvation.

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