ReelBob: ‘Downsizing’ ★
By Bob Bloom
“Downsizing” is disappointing and dull, and it will leave you dumbfounded.
Director Alexander Payne’s latest film, which he co-wrote with Jim Taylor, has a promising premise on which the pair fail to deliver.
The first act of the movie showcases an intriguing idea — a scientific organization discovers a method to shrink people as a way to save the planet and conserve its resources.
Many people embrace this concept, including Paul (Matt Damon) and his wife, Audrey (Kristen Wiig). But things go astray when Paul undergoes the procedure.
It is at this point that “Downsizing” veers into an entirely different movie — in tone and theme.
The film plays as if Payne and Taylor had a great idea for a first act, then were hit by writer’s block and simply pulled a bunch of other ideas out of a hat.
At first, you believe “Downsizing” is a comedy or satire about protecting the environment.
Then, when the film’s atmosphere shifts — and you definitely will recognize that moment — it just becomes a random sequence of scenes and situations that go round-and-round like a runaway carousel.
The problem is that the film diverges into a bunch of disparate issues — class inequality, distribution of wealth and doomsday scenarios — that “Downsizing” becomes nearly incoherent.
It’s as if Payne and Taylor were blinded by their original concept and ignored the rest of the script. As a result, the second and third acts play like the two just threw up their hands in desperation and said, “screw it.”
Damon’s Paul is a caring person, but also bland and boring. He is more a follower than a protagonist, and we lose interest in him rather quickly.
Paul’s neighbor, played by Christoph Waltz, gives what has now become his trademark smarmy performance as a man embracing and taking full advantage of his new lifestyle.
The most problematic character is Hong Chau as Ngoc Lan Tran, a Vietnamese environmental activist who is shrunk by her government as punishment for her crusading.
She is screechy, preachy, pushy and mentally draining, yet she is the most human character in a very underwhelming movie.
It’s a shame that “Downsizing” lost its way. The premise was so intriguing that, if it had been carried to fruition, it could have been one of the best movies of the year.
Instead, we get flabby, unoriginal and obvious social commentary in an excruciating movie that — to do the environment a favor — should be consigned to the nearest dumpster.
I am a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association. My reviews appear at ReelBob (reelbob.com) and Rottentomatoes (www.rottentomatoes.com). I also review Blu-rays and DVDs. I can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ReelBobBloom. Links to my reviews can be found on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn.
1 star out of 4
(R), language, sexual references, nudity, drug use