REVIEW: ‘Downsizing’ Misfires Because Of Bland Character, Weak Satire

When some men get to the point of a midlife crisis, they may go out and purchase a nice sports car. Matt Damon’s character in “Downsizing,” meanwhile, gets a procedure to become four inches tall.

The title more or less gives a clue as to what the film is about. The picture opens with a new procedure being developed called downsizing which shrinks bodies to roughly four or five inches tall. As a result of the size reduction, the environmental footprint of humanity can be lessened and because of resources becoming more abundant, people can live in luxury.

Paul Safranek (Matt Damon), an occupational therapist who seems bored with life, figures it’s a good thing to try. As a result, he and his wife make a plan to go through with downsizing. However, as the movie unravels, it shows that this wasn’t the fix-all solution that Paul expected.

So, as the lead suggests, what the movie is really about comes forward pretty quickly and sticks along for nearly the entire film. The picture is less a sci-fi and more of a human drama based around a man who wants something different from life.

Unfortunately, Paul isn’t really that interesting of a character to follow and he doesn’t have much plight, either. Sure, there are points where he’s unhappy with things, but all of his problems seem superficial.

The film still could have been OK if it had just been a slice-of-life story after the downsizing procedure is done. However, some turns the film takes in the second and the third act just derail things too much, as if the film took a wrong exit. In the second half, for example, new characters are introduced and they only really serve to over explain the social commentary and satire.

Oh, the satire, that’s another issue. The satire in “Downsizing” is all rather obvious and isn’t done with much subtlety. Basically, the attempts at humor run on jabs at two concepts: that day-to-day life can stay the same even if the setting changes and that social hierarchy as well as ‘haves and have-nots’ will always exist in some way or another.

Other than the premise of shrinking, “Downsizing” doesn’t do much with these concepts and it makes the film as a whole feel really bland. On top of the satire, other attempts at humor in “Downsizing” fall flat, too. Examples include people not being able to say Paul’s last name correctly and a scene where he takes a drug and goes wild at a party. Never seen that stuff before, right?

It should also be noted that the movie, which had been pushing the environmental commentary to a noticeable but limited capacity, goes into overdrive in the third act. In the movie’s final half hour or so, the lead characters learn that the environment is in dire shape, but it’s never explained what that really means. The film just submits this idea to make a point but doesn’t drive it home in the context of the story.

As far as protagonists go, Paul isn’t one of the best. He’s a dull, working stiff who just needs to learn to live a little and see what’s really important in life. As previously stated, it’s a pretty average man with a midlife crisis story and it’s not compelling or charming. As a result, Damon, who is a talented actor, doesn’t have much to do here.

Hong Chau, meanwhile, gives a fairly good performance as a Vietnamese refugee, especially since the energy she gives the character gives the film somewhat of heartbeat. At the same time, though, the character only really spoke through broken English and it seemed like an odd choice as some of the moments that are meant to be emotional don’t translate through very well.

Christoph Waltz is featured in the movie and he adds some fun just because of how much scenery he chews and because he always brings charisma to his roles. Unfortunately, the film doesn’t make use of other talented cast members like Kristen Wiig or Jason Sudeikis nearly enough.

Also, while it wasn’t a main focus, it should be noted that the special effects aren’t all that great here. Sure, it looks better than say “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” from 1989, but that’s not exactly a high bar.

“Downsizing” is a real mess. The tone is inconsistent, it’s not all that funny, the social commentary is seemingly forced and the protagonist is a drag. Above all else, though, it’s simply boring. 1 out of 5.

Author: Matthew Liedke

Journalist and film critic in Minnesota. Graduate of Rainy River College and Minnesota State University in Moorhead. Outside of movies I also enjoy sports, craft beers and the occasional video game.

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