To combat the dangers of climate change, scientists in Norway develop an extraordinary means to save the planet, by literally reducing the carbon footprint by downsizing people. For occupational therapist Paul Safranek (Matt Damon), trying to keep his head above water in the normal sized water seems an every day struggle. His wife Audrey want’s a new home but it seems a distant dream. At a high school reunion, the night is turned on its head when one of Paul’s former class buddies Dave (Jason Sudekis) turns up with his with wife, downsized. Dave gives Paul all the info of the benefits of downszing as the purposely built towns offer more for a lot less. With the promise of a bigger home and doing something for the planet. Paul and Audrey sign up for the procedure. But post procedure, Paul’s plans take a sharp left turn and left in a world he was not quite prepared for. But when a series of chance circumstances lead to Paul on a journey he never would have imagined, he starts to wonder if he has found a new calling.
Downsizing is a bit of a leap for Alexander Payne, this is somewhat his first real Hollywood film with a slate of successful and revered indie character driven titles such as About Schmidt, Sideways and his most previous film Nebraska, and he’s transgressed quite marvellously. Alongside regular collaborator scriptwriter Jim Taylor, Downsizing is a high concept film that is well balanced in delivering a fantastical world that is almost silly yet takes into consideration some real life issues and the problems creating a new society co-existing with an established one, whilst creating an epic journey for its central character. The level of detail in creating the downsized world is fairly astonishing, to the minute detail of the sound of a downsized car door closing. And for it’s two hour plus running time, the joke never wears thin.
It’s raucously funny throughout, which sometimes is too it’s own detriment when trying to create a sense of dramatic tension or pathos. Matt Damon gives a worthy performance as the ever so nice guy Paul but we never quite get a feel or sense of his sense of personal tragedy as someone who is consistently selfless and walked over constantly. The relationship that develops between by Vietnamese dissident and refugee Ngoc Lan Tran (Hong Chau) fails to feel overly convincing. These negatives don’t necessarily bring the film down but I can’t help but feel if there was more empathy or sentimentality injected, Downsizing would be a classic for years. As an epic whimsical tale, it’s probably the closest thing to Forrest Gump and if you’re not quite gleaming with the experience afterwards, you’re probably dead inside. Payne has managed to go big and remain smart at the same time and that’s a hell of a feat.