Before I begin this review, let me take you on a bit of a journey.
When I first saw the trailer for Downsizing, I was intrigued. Not so much of the film itself, but more on what the conflict would be. The trailer, along with the film’s official synopsis, described the film as one which is set in the not so distant future during a time where scientists have discovered a way to shrink humans in order to curb the growing problem of overpopulation. Paul (Matt Damon) and his wife, Audrey (Kristen Wiig), who are struggling financially, decide to become ‘small’ after the positive feedback given by their friends, who now live luxuriously after ‘downsizing’.
Now, with this plot in mind, I wondered to myself, “what could possibly happen after the pair shrunk? What would the turning point of the film be?” Curious, I watched the film without expecting too much, assuming it to be just another comedy-drama. However, I walked out of the cinema feeling rather cheated. Below are all the reasons why.
Downsizing began as expected and was true to the film’s synopsis. The setup was rather predictable and to be very honest, was a little bit of a downer. Once Paul and Audrey made the decision to become ‘small’, I was certain that the pacing of the film would pick up and so too, would the tone of the film. While the pacing did improve, the film as I came to expect it, turned for the worst.
At the most crucial moment, the film suddenly suffered from a case of identity crisis and changed completely. No longer was it about a couple wanting to ‘downsize’ for their financial freedom. Instead, what we were left with was by far one of Matt Damon’s worst performances to date and a rather crude racial stereotype on a character that could, and should, have been depicted better and with more respect.
What we ended up seeing on screen was a mess. Paul, divorced and unable to return to his normal height and self, is left to navigate through his dull and meaningless life alone, bringing the rather sombre tone of the film’s beginning back. It was painful to watch Paul mope about.
Even after his chance meeting with Ngoc Lan Tran (Hong Chau), a Vietnamese refugee who escaped prison after being arrested for protesting and was forcefully ‘downsized’, Paul continued to be a rather unlikeable character. It was certainly as if the man had no real purpose at all and was going through the motions, or rather, through the writers’ various disjointed plot points and narratives.
The film was a complete deviation from what it initially portrayed. At least the second ‘arc’ of the film, which saw Paul begin helping the sick and poor with Lan Tran, was reasonable and could very well have ended the film on a high with Paul finding his ‘calling’ and using his skills to help the rest of his small community. Or perhaps he could have taken a stand to fight for small people’s rights. He certainly should have done something more than what he did in the film’s third ‘arc’, which is simply sail away to the first ‘small people’ colony with Lan Tran, his neighbour, Dusan Mirkovic (Christoph Waltz) and a ‘rich guy with a boat’, Konrad (Udo Kier).
It is the third part of the film that made me feel like walking out of the cinema. From doing something relatively meaningful with his life, the film does a complete 180 and suddenly the world is deemed to be ending. The colony Paul and crew are visiting have devised a plan to ensure mankind’s survival, a Noah’s Ark type of solution. Paul, being the ‘world’s greatest guy’ (yes, that is sarcasm), decides that he needs to ‘save the world’ by being one of the people who go on to live in an bunker of sorts. Though it may sound interesting while reading it in this review, the film’s portrayal of this is simply awful and once again, completely disjointed. Imagine trying to tell a story without linking the words together to create a flow.
This was also felt in the rather sudden and out of nowhere romance that happened with the flip of a switch. Not only did the film depict Lan Tran in a rather racially stereotypical manner, one which was rather insensitive and clearly done purely to add ‘humour’ to the film (yes some parts were funny and I couldn’t help but laugh, however it’s a little inappropriate to depict non-Caucasians this way), but the love that supposedly blossomed between Paul and Lan Tran really did feel like it stemmed purely out of his pity for her situation.
It really did come across as if the writers hadn’t planned the film out to its entirety before production began and that the entire film was unrehearsed and improvised.
Downsizing was a film that completely lost me and to be very honest, made me quite disappointed in the cast. The acting seemed forced, the plot simply messy and sitting through the film felt like a tedious ordeal. This is one film that I just couldn’t bring myself to enjoy (nor find anything positive to say, sadly).