For years, scientists have been attempting to warn people about the effects their actions have on our planet, with limited success. Norwegian scientists, though, think they have found something that might help. In Downsizing, set at a point in the future, they pitch their plan regarding overpopulation to the world. At a scientific conference, Dr. Jorgen Asbjornsen (Rolf Lassgard) arrives as a different man of sorts - he's just five inches tall. He and 35 others underwent the procedure and established a colony for themselves. The concept goes worldwide, and the concept gains the attention of occupational therapist Paul Safranek (Matt Damon) and his store clerk wife Audrey (Kristen Wiig) when they see a couple of close friends of theirs have downsized and moved to the small person community known as Leisureland. When they learn the money they have would make them millionaires in Leisureland, they sell almost all of their worldly possessions and prepare for the move.
When the day for the procedure comes, Paul and Audrey are to be downsized separately. When Paul awakens from surgery a smaller man, he gets a call from Audrey, who has changed her mind. They divorce, and Paul lives the life of an unhappily single man working as a telemarketer. A complaint about a noisy neighbor turns into an unlikely friendship with Dusan Mirkovic (Christoph Waltz), a fun-loving businessman who still makes money in the big world with his adventurous friend Joris Konrad (Udo Kier). After a party, Paul notices a member of Dusan's housekeeping crew, Ngoc Lan Tran (Hong Chau), a human rights activist and famed dissident, does not walk normally. Paul then discovers that Ngoc has a prosthetic leg which she'd received following a botched human smuggling attempt. He fits her with a makeshift leg after breaking the prosthetic. He even goes to work for her in an effort to repay her. Dusan, though, wants to take Paul on a trip to the first small colony in Norway. Lan Tran, citing a previous missed opportunity, gets to come as well. The trip, though, doesn't go as planned.
The films of Alexander Payne often tell tales of people with big ambitions, and the problems they face in accomplishing their big ambitions. Payne's previous two films, The Descendants (2011) and Nebraska (2013), are among my favorite films of this decade. Downsizing reunites Payne and fellow writer Jim Taylor, both of whom won an Oscar for their screen treatment of Sideways in 2004. Downsizing certainly has the the theme of ambition, but doesn't draw viewers into the situation the way its predecessors did. The basic story is interesting, but the movie doesn't really come to life until Paul meets Dusan. At that point, Paul starts to explore the possibilities of living in Leisureland. When Paul gets acquainted with Ngoc, he finds a way to put his career skills to use. The tone gets heavy toward the end, and reminds me a bit of a film starring Steve Carell whose name I won't mention, where characters also had to make essential decisions.
Damon is good as Paul, a man who discovers he left too much behind when he moved to Leisureland. Paul, though, chose to work, though his new home should have had a place for a man with his life skills. While Paul finds a true source of enjoyment with Dusan, he rediscovers his calling with Ngoc. Waltz, though, steals the show as Dusan, a man who has lived a life of adventure. Leisureland is simply the latest adventure. He has no real reason to be there otherwise. When Paul complains about the noise from one of Dusan's parties, he invites him to join instead of making a rude response. Chau is the opposite of Dusan as Ngoc, a woman forced into downsizing by an oppressive government. The change never changes her resolve to be a voice against injustice. She, like Dusan, finds a way to connect to Paul. Wiig does a good job in support as Audrey, who decides in time to not leave the world she knew. Noteworthy bit performances come from Jason Sudeikis, Neil Patrick Harris, and Laura Dern.
Downsizing takes a look at people with good intentions, and how they come to terms with a new chapter of their lives. Paul Safranek finds that while he may have addressed his financial worries, he can't escape the problems of the world simply because he lives in a place called Leisureland. The movie, though, has pacing issues and an uneven mix of humor and drama. In the world we know, scientists have warned about the consequences of man's actions, and have drawn far too many skeptics. In a world where radical change has come, people trade size for some sense of security. Their world has changed, but the problems with the world remain the same.
On a scale of zero to four stars, I give Downsizing three stars. Not necessarily changing for the better.