It is heartbreaking to see so much earnestness being squandered away in inertia. “Downsizing” is a well-meaning jibe at global devastation done in a tone so steeped in righteous indignation; I thought I was watching an evangelical propaganda film with angels and fairies flapping their invisible wings into the fuzzy camera lenses.
Director Alexander Payne, no stranger to tall tales about short-term beneficiaries messing up with their game plans, here goes for the whole mood of ecological regret with a heartbreaking earnestness. As a piece of propaganda on how we can save civilization, “Downsizing” has an in-eradicable cuteness at its heart which is borderline annoying.
The plot is constantly cloying, as our protagonist Paul (Matt Damon, looking so detached from the goings-on, he could be the most reluctant inaction hero in the history of cinema) decides to go for a ‘downsizing’ procedure that would reduce him and his wife (Kristen Wiig) to 20 times smaller than their normal size.
The benefits of downsizing are explained in what could easily have been devilish digs at governmental control of our destiny (we all know what that feels like). But no. Director Alexander Payne, so inured in enchanting ambiguities in his 2005 film “Sideways”, means every word his characters utter. They are good people caught in a catastrophic situation.
We get that. This is a work filled with invisible confetti dropping from heaven in every frame. The only time it gets close to being remotely mischievous is when Damon’s wife chickens out of the downsizing procedure at the last minute leaving him fuming and desolate in a la-la land where 5-inch human beings live in 5-star luxury.
The etherized environment halts only when a Vietnamese downsized refugee played by Hong Chau, with the most grating singsong South Asian accent ever heard in cinema, joins hands with Damon to help, nurse and feed the poor. Hong Chau orders Damon around as if she was taking revenge on all the wrongs that Harvey Weinstein had done to all the women in the entertainment business.
All through this dreadfully self-righteous film, I felt there was a catch somewhere. Maybe I was missing the point? But then with a jolt of awakening, I realized the whole point of the shrinking exercize is to spotlight man-made catastrophes as weighed against cinema’s ability to alchemize and assuage the pain of everyday existence.
“Downsizing” tries to elevate the process of shrinking human beings by imbuing a moral edification to the process of shrinking humans physically. Sorry, I saw no joy in becoming smaller to save humanity. How about saving us from having to watch such joyless excursions into la la land?