Review: While Downsizing boasts flashes of brilliance in its performances and premise, its uneven tone, muddled message, and narrative missteps ultimately leave Alexander Payne’s 2017 satire feeling like a missed opportunity.
Alexander Payne, the acclaimed director behind Sideways, The Holdovers, and others, took a bold leap into sci-fi satire with Downsizing in 2017. This ambitious film tackles themes of environmental anxieties, economic disparity, and the allure of minimalism through the lens of a fantastical shrinking technology. And while the movie boasts intriguing ideas and a strong cast with larger-than-life performances, it ultimately stumbles under the weight of its own quirky concept and uneven execution.
Matt Damon delivers a grounded performance as Paul Safranek, a man lured by the promise of a luxurious “small life” in a community for shrunken humans. But while Damon is able to carry the movie at times by himself, the film truly shines in the hands of its supporting cast. Christoph Waltz as his enigmatic next-door neighbor, and Hong Chau‘s captivating portrayal of a Vietnamese activist offer glimpses of the film’s potential for depth and nuance on a larger scale.
Downsizing starts stronger than it finishes, grappling with intriguing ideas that resonate in our current climate. The environmental anxieties surrounding climate change, the widening economic gap between the rich and poor, and the allure of simplifying our lives to achieve greater fulfillment are all woven into the narrative. However, the film’s satirical bite often feels uneven and inconsistent. Heavy-handed metaphors and clunky exposition overshadow the subtler humor and social commentary that Payne usually excels at.
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As the narrative shrinks, the film’s focus expands to encompass global issues like overpopulation and resource scarcity. This thematic ambition is commendable, but it stretches the film’s fabric far too thin. The result is a convoluted second half that abandons logic and coherence in favor of a bizarre dystopian turn. This tonal shift leaves you feeling disoriented and emotionally disconnected, ultimately undermining the film’s core message.
Payne’s signature strength lies in capturing raw human connection and exploring the complexities of individual lives. Unfortunately, this element feels muted in Downsizing. The humor, usually sharp and poignant, lands with inconsistency, and the characters, despite wildly varied performances, lack the depth and emotional resonance we’d expect given Payne’s other work in the past.
So while Downsizing boasts flashes of brilliance in its performances and premise, its uneven tone, muddled message, and narrative missteps ultimately leave it feeling like a missed opportunity. There are better options out there if you’re looking for sharp satires that grapple with our own anxieties about the climate. However, for die-hard Alexander Payne fans that curious about his foray into this genre, it might be worth a watch – just go in with lowered expectations.
Watch Downsizing on VOD here
Downsizing Cast and Credits
Matt Damon as Paul Safranek
Christoph Waltz as Dusan Mirkovic
Hong Chau as Ngoc Lan Tran
Kristen Wiig as Audrey Safranek
Udo Kier as Konrad
Director: Alexander Payne
Cinematography: Phedon Papamichael
Editor: Kevin Tent
Composer: Rolfe Kent