Movie Review: “Downsizing”
“Downsizing” is a new phenomenon that is all over the news, and is a major talking point in social circles across the globe. It is a new technological breakthrough that allows scientists to shrink humans down to a height of only five inches. It is an incredible technological advancement that could have an incredible ecological impact on our planet. With humans being a tiny fraction of their normal size, it would mean that their carbon footprint will be reduced by just as much.
Shrinking humans, and not shrinking their resources, could solve a lot of the world’s problems. The only problem is finding people who are willing to be downsized. What kind of person wants to give up life as they know it to be shrunken down to only five inches tall? Paul Safranek (Matt Damon) is one such person. He has convinced his wife (Kristen Wiig) that the global benefits far outweigh their personal uncertainty. They agree to take this step together. However, Paul’s wife backs out at the last minute, leaving him to move on with his life as a five inch tall human on his own.
The Pros & Cons
The Idea (+4pts)
What Now? (-5pts)
Christoph Waltz & Matt Damon (+4pts)
The Second Story (-6pts)
Hong Chau (+8pts)
The Third Story (-6pts)
Pro: The Idea (+4pts)
This movie had an idea that made way for a lot of thought-provoking questions. How would your life change if you were shrunken down to this size? How would it impact your bank account if common, everyday food and supplies did not shrink (making them last much longer)? What would the ecological impact be on the earth if a large percentage of humanity's population were downsized, therefore leaving a much smaller carbon footprint?
The premise is silly on the surface, but it raises a lot of interesting questions. It raises questions about humanity as well as our relationship to the planet we live on. The filmmakers only touched on these questions, which was a bit of a bummer, but the premise made me ask those questions myself. While, it would have been nice if the filmmakers focused more on these questions, the premise was certainly effective at hooking me in, and making me think.
Con: What Now? (-5pts)
The filmmakers had a strong premise, being as silly as it was thought-provoking. Unfortunately, it felt like the filmmakers gave little thought to what came after Paul’s downsizing, in terms of how his story after that point related to the premise. I got the impression that the filmmakers had the idea, but they did not have a full story to go with it. I will get into this issue in more detail throughout this review, but in speaking to the first part of the story, the filmmakers had nothing for Paul to do once he was small, which made the entire rest of the plot feel a bit aimless.
Pro: Christoph Waltz & Matt Damon (+4pts)
Christoph Waltz and Matt Damon are both more than capable actors. They have each proven themselves comedically, and they have certainly proven themselves dramatically. Christoph Waltz has been a Bond villain in Spectre, has delivered performances that were mostly dramatic with movies like Alita: Battle Angel and Tulip Fever, has delivered performances that were mostly comedic with movies like Horrible Bosses 2, and has delivered performances that balanced comedy and drama in movies like Django Unchained. I would be here all day if I listed the examples of Matt Damon’s various performances, but with strong dramatic performances like The Martian, Good Will Hunting, and all of the Jason Bourne movies, he has definitely proven himself dramatically. His comedic roles have been a bit fewer and farther between, but he has sprinkled various little comedic gems throughout his career, and with his ongoing and hilarious bits with Jimmy Kimmel, the actor has definitely proven himself comedically.
To put all of that really simply, the two actors have proven that they can handle all drama that is thrown at them, and have proven their strong comedic timing. Without these two actors (or similarly talented ones) in these roles, this would have been a tough movie to get behind. They did not have a ton of material to really showcase their talent, but they did what the movie needed them to do. They delivered the comedy when necessary, delivered the drama when necessary, and kept me both moderately entertained and moderately interested in this movie. These were not incredible performances, but they worked for this movie.
Con: The Second Story (-6pts)
As I already mentioned, the filmmakers did not seem to have any idea on where they wanted to take the story after Paul was downsized. To be more accurate, I should say that they did not seem to have any idea how to proceed with the story in a way that related to the premise. Instead, they took the story in a completely different direction, that made the premise seem completely irrelevant. The good thing about this part of the story is that it introduced Hong Chau's character, but I will get into what I liked so much about that character with my next section of this review.
While I liked the introduction of Hong Chau's character, named Ngoc Lan Tran, I did not think it was at all relevant to Paul's story leading up to that point. Paul's involvement in Ngoc's story felt forced, and felt like a lazy attempt at keeping the movie going. Instead of coming up with clever, more interesting concepts that revolved around the premise of the movie, the filmmakers seemed to abandon the premise in favor of going in a direction that had absolutely nothing to do with the beginning of the story. The premise will get people to watch this movie, but the filmmakers' decision to figuratively jump ship was as disappointing as it was confusing. The story within this second part of the movie was not bad, it just did not feel relevant, which made the movie feel incoherent.
Pro: Hong Chau (+8pts)
When Paul (Matt Damon) first met Ngoc Lan Tran (Hong Chau), I thought she would be a lazy, stereotypical character. I was then very pleasantly surprised by the character’s story and the actress in the role. Ngoc a naturally sympathetic story. It is one that Paul connected with, and I certainly sympathized with it. However, Hong Chau’s performance was what really put this character over. She nailed the comedy, and absolutely crushed the drama. Hong Chau’s layered performance was captivating in a movie that mostly fell flat in other areas. She gave this movie depth, she gave this movie heart, she made me laugh, and was without a doubt the best part of this movie.
Con: The Third Story (-6pts)
After Paul’s downsizing, the filmmakers took this story in a completely different direction, but this was not the only time the filmmakers did this. The first story was about Paul deciding to downsize. The second story was about Paul’s life afterward. Then the third story was this weird cult thing, that I will not say much more about for the sake of avoiding spoilers.
This was more evidence that the filmmakers had absolutely no idea where they wanted to take this story. It felt like they randomly slapped a few stories together to form one incoherent movie, and just called it a day. This is not to say that I did not like anything within these sections of the movie, but rather that I did not think the filmmakers fit them together in a coherent way. It made the movie feel choppy, and made the ending feel hollow, because I was not invested in it at all.
Grade: C- (74pts)
The filmmakers had an interesting premise with this movie, but they seemed to have no idea what they wanted to do with the story after executing that premise. The premise was simple enough, shrinking humanity and exploring the impact that it would have on our lives on earth. It was a simple premise, that also opened the door for a number of compelling questions about our relationship with our resources on this planet, as well as the carbon foot print that we leave behind. The filmmakers did not seem to want to go anywhere with that premise or the questions it raised. Instead, when Paul shrinks, the filmmakers took this story in multiple different and random directions that had nothing to do with the premise.
The first part of the movie was about Paul deciding to downsize, and I liked everything leading up to Paul’s downsizing. The next part was about Paul’s life after downsizing and introduced Hong Chau’s character, but I did not think this section of the movie related naturally with the first section. Then the last part took another turn into this weird cult storyline, that made me feel like the filmmakers had absolutely no idea what they were doing with this movie. They just delivered a jumbled mess that fell way short of its potential. Fortunately, I thought Hong Chau did an outstanding job and was easily the best thing in this movie. She was really funny, had a compelling story, and added a ton of heart to the movie. Without her this movie would have been bad, but she gave a performance that was as entertaining as it was captivating, and ultimately made this movie watchable.