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FILM REVIEW: "Downsizing"

Paramount Pictures
Kristen Wiig and Matt Damon star in "Downsizing."
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After receiving much critical and commercial acclaim with his backwoods fight-or-flight survivalist fantasy Deliverance, director John Boorman bravely ventured far outside his wheelhouse and made the comically incomprehensible post-apocalyptic “satire” Zardoz, tarnishing whatever goodwill he’d built up for years to come.

It’s a much-lauded cautionary tale as old as Hollywood itself and one that has thankfully repeated itself in the worst way possible via Alexander Payne’s hilariously ham-fisted foray into the needlessly fantastical with the Lilliputian mess that is Downsizing.

Payne, mostly known for society-mirroring comedies such as Citizen Ruth and Election, as well as skewed family dramedies like The Descendants and, most recently, the stark Nebraska, has crafted the most intriguing misfire of the year, a likeable-enough failure that makes little to no sense, presenting numerous interesting ideas and then casting various true societal aspersions with them…and then doing absolutely nothing to follow through. Those who make it to the end credits will be left biting the corner of their lip and saying “Huh...”

In an alternate timeline when European scientists have found a way to combat overpopulation and climate change by shrinking humans to five inches, thereby cutting down on waste, resource usage and so on—not to mention the monetary benefits a tiny dollar can be stretched—it becomes the latest “keeping up with the Joneses” fad, one that milquetoast couple Paul and Audrey (Matt Damon and Kristen Wiig, respectively) jump at. Kind of.

At the last minute, Audrey pulls out, leaving Paul divorced and alone in the microscopic wonder-world that is Leisureland, a well-maintained colony for the small that, we eventually learn, has a darker side when Paul meets shrunken political prisoner Ngoc (Hong Chau, the film’s main bright-spot) and is introduced to a third-the-size third-world country before being taken on a trip to the original shrunken colony in Switzerland, now home to a doomsday cult and…well, that’s it, I guess.

Downsizing is, broken down into its smaller parts, three short films that are seemingly connected yet without any viable transitions or, for that matter, honest endings to give these vignettes any type of reason for their existence other than to stretch out the more manufactured big ideas the movie outgrew within the first five minutes. There are so many potentially explosive ideas that Payne has the audacity to mention and even show, but none of the cojones to back them up and do anything with them even on the most superficial of levels.

And that’s what probably hurts the most about Downsizing is, especially in the second act; there is a really great, very funny, brilliantly realized film lurking about under the giant heels of a seemingly needless (and truly bizarre) Christmas cash-grab release that tries to be all social things to all social people without earnestly asking if it’s truly what they even want.

The best thing I can recommend about Downsizing is maybe true to form and even truer to its heritage, it’ll play out better on the small screen at home, once the messages can be paused and the intentions questioned, especially when it is rediscovered 25 years from now as a classic cinematic misfire that midnight audiences will get high to and, as the credits roll, bite the corner of their lip and say “Huh...”

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Louis Fowler

Güicho. Gadfly. Chicano. Choctaw. Cristero. Freelancer. Leftist. Activist. Vilified. PKD....

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About Red Dirt Report

Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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