Netflix UK film review: Downsizing
James R | On 29, May 2018
Director: Alexander Payne
Cast: Matt Damon, Christoph Waltz, Kristen Wiig, Hong Chau
Watch Downsizing online in the UK: Netflix UK / Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / TalkTalk TV / Rakuten TV / Google Play / Sky Store
From the bitter Sideways to the melancholic Nebraska, Alexander Payne is a sharp, astute observer of the human condition. To say that Downsizing – a whimsical, ambitious comedy with a high sci-fi concept – is a departure is an understatement.
The film is set in a near-future where scientists have managed to shrink people down to 0.634% of their size – a technological breakthrough driven by the overpopulation of our planet. The logic is wonderfully simple: smaller people require smaller resources, so why not downsize and ease the strain on the natural environment? It’s a tiny solution to a gargantuan problem.
And so Paul (Matt Damon) and his wife, Audrey (Kristen Wiig), buy into the idea – inspired by a chance encounter with an old friend who has already taken the bitesized step into microscopia. But their motivation is less about combatting mankind’s excessive consumption and more by the fact that it makes everything more affordable; the puny salary of a workplace physical therapist can go a lot further when mansions are the size of a matchbox, turning Paul into a millionaire undernight.
It’s a witty concept that’s just as witty in its visual execution. Payne does a remarkable job of bringing to life this dainty world, complete with mini-luxury villas and tiny animals. It’s ingeniously shot, all high angles and aerial shots, like watching an entire movie made with tilt shift. But for all its teeny touches, the movie is absurdly big, certainly too big for its own diminutive boots – where Payne has often subtly captured the state of iAmerican society in his work, this globe-trotting project tries to tackle grander ideas, such as climate change and immigration.
Those ideas are in there, and the questions are intriguingly raised, but the result lacks focus, feeling like three or four different stories sandwiched together. Even our lead couple wind up feeing irrelevant, leaving you wondering whether we should be following another protagonist entirely – not least because Christoph Waltz, playing into type (to put it generously) as a lascivious mini-gangster, and Hong Chau, as an illegal immigrant, are far more interesting people. Chau, in particular, does her best to overcome a stereotypical role on paper with a performance full of wit and heart. Even as the script balloons out of proportion, and our white male hero is championed above everyone else, Chau keeps things grounded with the promise of a fresh perspective on the universe. Downsizing, however, needs exactly that.
Downsizing is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £9.99 monthly subscription.