What is the American dream? For a lot of people, it's simply to be wealthy for the sake of their family. But as we're further influenced by the media, the definition of wealthy becomes skewed. What should be a simple dream to be sure that your family is never too worried about money, suddenly becomes bigger with fantasies of mansions and private jets. There's nothing wrong with dreaming big as people are free to do what they wish with their earnings. But consider how a lot of lottery winners lose their wealth; they'll go out and buy everything they've ever wanted, but never dig into their own personal problems that have prevented them from becoming rich in the first place. It's all design, but no substance.
Money has been proven to solve some, but not all problems. Anyone can just throw money to make a quick fix, but what about permanent solutions? Isn't that another definition of acquiring wealth? To finds ways to figure out what makes us unhappy? As life has shown, easy answers are rare. Whether a problem is a society one or a personal one, that requires a different kind of work that no money can fix. Downsizing cuts into that factor.
In the near future, scientists have fostered a way to shrink humanity to not only solve an environmental crisis, but to provide a new gateway to riches; smaller people means smaller usage of resources, therefore, a dollhouse can now become a mansion. This has lured a lot of people into "downsizing", but of course there is a catch; it's irreversible. So those that go in are staying that size.
This doesn't seem to bother occupational therapist Paul (played by Matt Damon) and his wife Audrey (played by Kristen Wiig) who are financially strapped and want an easier life. Though Paul goes through with it, Audrey backs out and files for a divorce, leaving the poor guy in the same boat he was at full size; unhappy.
Now living in an apartment, he's taken a call center job for Lands End while trying to figure out what to do with himself. Along the way, he encounters a party animal neighbor Dusan (played by Christopher Waltz) and a Vietnamese housecleaner Ngoc Lan Tran (played by Hong Chau) who was once a political prisoner, shrunken against her will. These people put Paul to the test on whether "downsizing" really does fix humanities problems.
I have to give Downsizing a lot of credit for ambition. It's a good setup that could be examined heavily. Director Alexander Payne (Nebraska, The Descendants) certainty knew that and tries to examine a lot of issues like climate change, refugee crises, and class separation. Rather then crafting a flow and mixture, the script seems to throw everything into a blender, hoping that part of it sticks. This results in not only a clunky narrative that can't seem to pick a plot, but tone that’s uneven, trying to mix Midwestern dilemma to science fiction to fantasy-like utopia.
Alexander Payne is better at directing his actors, as everyone feels right at home. Matt Damon does well as an ordinary man whose trying to find purpose. Christoph Waltz again plays eccentric and goofy in a playful manner, even if we've seen it before. My favorite is the one that people will be split on, Hong Chau. One the one hand, she plays a stereotype of an Asian immigrant who speaks broken English. I should be angry at this,,, but not only is she great playing that stereotype, but she's heartfelt in a way that we really root for her.
So why couldn't Alexander Payne had taken the same care with the script as his other movies? It seems that he should have either picked one of the many issues he brings up and go at it or really work on the script to craft something bigger. The story that is presented just seems to bring up an issue, drop it, go for another, maybe return to an old one and… that's pretty much Downsizing. Without giving anything away, the overall moral seems to be "Love thy neighbor". Not only does it feel very redundant and a rushed answer to everything, but other movies like It's a Wonderful Life have tackled that philosophy better.
I'll give this two and a half yellow roses out of five. Downsizing in an unfortunate dud from one of my favorite directors. It's ironic that a movie about shrunken people couldn't have said something larger. It's dull and rambling…a lot like that great uncle relative you have whose nice, but lacks anything of true worth. Let this shrink into nothing.