It is true that I went into the movie Downsizing wearing a shirt that declared, “I hate the movie Downsizing.” It is also true that I sold these shirts to the friends with whom I saw this movie. At the time of having these shirts printed up, my hatred of the film extended only to its annoying trailer that played before nearly every movie I’ve seen since September. Considering I went to the movies over 30 times last year, it’s a medical miracle I didn’t overdose on that Talking Heads song. Having now seen the movie, I can declare with all certainty that I hate the movie Downsizing.
It’s hard to succinctly describe the plot of Downsizing, not because it’s overly complex, but because it so frequently forgets what story it’s trying to tell. The general premise is that Paul Safranek (who will henceforth be known as the actor portraying him—Matt Damon) is having a midlife crisis, so he convinces his wife (played by a very bored Kristen Wiig) to go under this hot new procedure called Downsizing. (Hey! That’s the name of the movie!) Matt Damon alternates between wanting to Downsize for environmental reasons and for financial reasons. Since Downsized people are tiny, they use less resources, create less waste, and have a lower cost of living. Neat idea, right?
The movie spirals out of control once the procedure is done. Kristen Wiig decides not to undergo the procedure after having her head and one eyebrow shaved, leaving tiny Matt Damon alone is his tiny people world. With the exception of a few visual gags here and there, the movie completely forgets that these are tiny people and instead becomes a movie about an upper middle class cis/het white guy who struggles to find meaning in his meaningless existence. Having so much privilege is apparently not enough.
Were the movie just that, I wouldn’t hate it; I would nothing it. It would merely be something that stimulated my eyes and ears for a couple of hours while I reclined back, ate chocolate, and drank a Coke Zero. Instead, it kept teasing me with worthwhile ideas, then not exploring them. Toward the beginning of the film, when Matt Damon was tall, but before he was small, he and Kristen Wiig were having a going away party at a bar. At some point, a random drunkard accosts them about tiny people rights. He argued that the vote of tiny people should count for less than regular-sized people. This issue of inequality is never brought up again, even though that premise would present a unique way to address conflicts in the real world. For example, money is worth more to tiny people due to a lower cost of living, but would tiny people get paid the same wage as non-Downsized people? Should they get paid the same? Would it really be cheaper to be Downsized when it seems as though all of the materials and goods—including livestock and wood—have also been Downsized? Wouldn’t that make things more expensive? The movie decides not to explore any of that because Matt Damon is too busy wallowing in self pity.
Later, he befriends a one-legged Vietnamese dissident by the name of Ngoc Lan Tran (played by Hong Chau in one of the few good performances of the movie). Her government forced her into becoming tiny as punishment for protesting, which presents an interesting ethical dilemma. Don’t worry, though. The movie doesn’t want to deal with a topic that heavy, so it drops it immediately. Hong Chau is only here as a way for Matt Damon to find purpose in being a white savior.
The movie makes a pretty big deal out of a character who was the first person born as a tiny person, but doesn’t bother with any of its impact. Would people born tiny resent those who chose to be Downsized? Would people who Downsized for wealth instead of environmental issues be chastised? Does society condone the Downsizing of children, or is it a taboo? Instead of addressing any of these issues, the movie makes an STI joke about the tiny Norwegian. Herpes are funny, right?
The worst aspect of Downsizing is that the major conceit of the movie was completely superfluous. Most of the movie was shot like a movie with normal-sized people. Missing were the Ant-Man-style shots that showed off the scale of this tiny world full of tiny people. Textures weren’t enlarged, clothing looked like regular clothes instead of doll clothes, blades of grass were still small, rain behaved liked normal rain. It makes me wonder, why was Downsizing even in the movie Downsizing?
What did we learn?
- Matt Damon’s penis is as unimpressive as his performance in this movie.
- Christoph Waltz is always delightful, even if he’s in a shitty movie.
- Those European chocolate wafer things at the Regal theaters are simply delectable!
- Shores in Norway are completely free of insects, spiders, and other predators because…reasons.
- Fibromyalgia is to be treated with the same sincerity and concern as Claudette from The Room‘s “definite” breast cancer.
Directed by Alexander Payne
Written by Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor
Music by Rolfe Kent
Running time 135 minutes