‘Downsizing’ doesn’t live up to its creative premise


The first 30 minutes of “Downsizing” from director Alexander Payne are fascinating.

The premise? That the world is on the path to self-destruction and that science has come up with a way to slash waste and environmental pollutants and all sorts of other things that seem to be propelling us toward doom. The solution? Shrink people down to about 5 inches tall.

It’s a complicated process. Say you’re a guy. You go into a room with other guys. You’re stripped naked. All your body hair is shaved off. You also have all dental fillings removed. In essence, you’re just a bunch of flesh. Then you’re wheeled into a special high-tech room with a bunch of other guys, and technicians turn a switch and watch you shrink through a special window.

Once the process is done, the workers come in and carefully scoop you up with a spatula and take you to a tiny hospital where you’ll recover and then move to the tiny LeisureWorld, a dome-like structure in New Mexico, where you’ll live in a tiny but luxurious house — because everything is so small, you can afford a lot more things.

Then Payne veers into the lives of Paul and Audrey Safranek (Matt Damon and Kristen Wiig), who are in a lower-middle-class rut in Omaha. Paul has given up his medical dreams because he spent lots of time caring for his late debilitated mother. He sees the process of downsizing as a way to live comfortably. It also offers a new start.

But there are lots of problems, of course. They’ll be leaving their family and friends. They’ll be some of the first people to be downsized, so they’ll be experimenting with their futures. And they’ll face criticism from full-size people, who feel that the downsizing movement might hurt property values and wonder whether pint-size people should have the same civil rights as full-size folks.

Complications ensue, and once Paul makes his way to LeisureWorld — let’s avoid spoilers and just say that things aren’t completely as he expected.

He’s surprised that there’s still a class system in this promised Utopia, and that realization comes when he meets a Vietnamese political dissident (Hong Chau), who has been unwillingly downsized by a vile ruler and ends up in one of LeisureWorld’s lesser neighborhoods.

She’s the housekeeper for one of Paul’s new neighbors, a wild-partying Serbian played by Christoph Waltz, who makes a fortune by smuggling full-size products in to LeisureWorld and then chopping them up into suitably small portions and selling them for a big profit.

And all of a sudden, we’re following Paul as he works through a midlife crisis and tries to make new friends. And that’s where “Downsizing” starts to fall apart dramatically. It gets preachy at times. It feels tonally uneven. And a romance that develops seems unlikely, in part because of a poorly developed character.

Payne has a way of making amusing movies, from “Election” to “Nebraska.” His new movie has plenty of high-concept promise, but it doesn’t gel as a whole.

Still, the wry humor of the first 30 minutes will leave you with a smile.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Movies & TV

Sam Smith has the voice and the songs, but his stage has serious stage presence
Sam Smith has the voice and the songs, but his stage has serious stage presence

Sam Smith performs at the Erwin Center on Saturday, July 21, 2018. Suzanne Cordeiro for American-Statesman Judging from the occasional waves of euphoric screaming as well as the frequent singing along throughout Sam Smith’s concert Saturday night at the Erwin Center, it was clear that his fans love the English singer’s voice...
This week’s music picks: Suffers, BJ Barham, Hot Summer Nights
This week’s music picks: Suffers, BJ Barham, Hot Summer Nights

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DezOqPo8Y0k&w=492&h=307] Monday: The Suffers at Waterloo Records. With an intro by rapper Paul Wall, a smoky interlude featuring Bun B. and the gut-wrenching track “After the Storm,” which uses slow burning love as a salve for any residual ache from Hurricane Harvey, “Everything...
At an American escargot farm, growth proceeds at a snail's pace
At an American escargot farm, growth proceeds at a snail's pace

Life on the nation's only USDA-certified snail farm is, as one might imagine, pretty slow. And quiet. And small, with the entire farm contained within one 300-square-foot greenhouse in the middle of Long Island's wine country. At Peconic Escargot, 30,000 to 50,000 petit gris snails coexist in large plastic bins of dirt, munching on wild greens, living...
Happy 5th birthday, Prince George! Kate Middleton, Prince William share sweet photo of oldest son
Happy 5th birthday, Prince George! Kate Middleton, Prince William share sweet photo of oldest son

Someone looks very happy to be turning 5. Kensington Palace shared an adorable photo of a smiling Prince George, the oldest child of Britain's Prince William and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, on Saturday, one day before the pint-sized royal's birthday. "The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are very pleased to share a new photograph of Prince George...
Webb Report: Austin’s Myers-Briggs match makes a lot of sense
Webb Report: Austin’s Myers-Briggs match makes a lot of sense

I cannot remember important facts about my own family medical history, but I have built a good part of my self-image around the results of a personality test I took in chemistry class at Crockett High School. According to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, I am an ENFP. And according to one lifestyle website, if you are an ENFP, too — and if you&rsquo...
More Stories