Little did I know that upon watching Alexander Payne’s (Sideways) latest film, Downsizing, that it would spark an internal debate in my brain. You see, this is the kind of film that kindles deep discussion, introspection, and begs viewers to take inventory of their life’s path. An interesting treatise on human existence, I found myself more fascinated with the film.
Let’s start with the premise and just a touch of the story. This is a hard movie to review without spoiling, and I’ll barely skim the top of reveals. Matt Damon plays Paul Safranek, an everyman who lives a pretty typical life. He and his wife, Audrey, performed by Kristen Wiig struggle in the carefully constructed financial vice of middle class America. Audrey wants a nice home, but Paul just can’t meet her expectations with what they earn. Lo and behold, a new technology is sweeping the world known as Downsizing. Humans can be permanently shrunk to mere inches and with this reduced need for resources, a meager savings account turns into millions of relative dollars within small people communities. Paul now sees a way to provide for his wife and they are enchanted with the idea of living a life of luxury. The couple sign up for the procedure and just as the adventure begins, Paul finds himself alone, tiny, and broke once again, this time surrounded by his rich peers in the small town of Leisure Land.
As Paul adjusts himself to his new life, he is forcibly befriended by his eccentric upstairs neighbor, Dusan Mirkovic, played by the amazing Christoph Waltz. Dusan lives the beautiful life of a confirmed bachelor and parties constantly. He is always accompanied by Konrad, performed by the epic Udo Kier and offer the audience hilarious banter. They teach Paul his first lesson in claiming back his life and act as benevolent benefactors along the journey. His friendship with the crazy party duo leads him to meet the pivotal character in Paul’s character arc, Ngoc Lan Tran, a plucky Vietnamese maid with a heart of gold played by Hong Chau. From here on out, Paul makes leaps and bounds in his existential metamorphosis as he witnesses the failures and triumphs of himself and of mankind.
This movie front and foremost is a philosophical work of existential art with concepts that remind me of the works of Albert Camus and Victor Frankl. It spurred some fantastic debates in my household as my boyfriend and I discussed many of the choices that Paul had to make. It also confronts the audience with the fallacy of societal standards of happiness and success. Paul clearly loves his career as an occupational therapist, but falls for the trappings of a get-rich-quick theme by downsizing. And yet, after he finds himself alone in the small world, it’s this same love of work that opens his true path to happiness. Paul also learns the lesson of working for a greater purpose, as he is no longer working hard to pay for material possessions to make his wife happy. The film also wrestles with the divisiveness of wealth, poverty, mankind’s fear of change and the possibility of a human apocalypse. Humanity is put on trial in Downsizing, but both sides of the coin are equally showcased.
As far as the technical aspects of the film, everything is solid. The special effects are decent. The pacing drags at times and there are a few moments that feel a little preachy. However, the story is pulls you through those moments. All the performances are effective, and Hong Chau’s work stands out among them. I would categorize this film as a dramatic comedy, as it touts plenty of funny moments that act as buoys to lift the heaviness of the thematic elements.
While this is not a necessarily heart-warming film, it is bursting with beautiful life lessons and relevancy. Downsizing asks you to consider your life and to question the illusions that surround you. It’s a thoughtful film that deserves a large audience. It hits theaters today, and it’s a refreshing change to the spectacle of popular films. Buy a ticket, enjoy the movie, and take a few moments to ruminate on your life!
Thanks for reading,
The Diva Del Mar