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Downsizing (2017)
Movie Reviews

Downsizing (2017)

A sci-fi satire offering little of either genre, filled with extended shots that add little to the experience (pun intended).

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Scientists have figured out how to combat surplus population problems by shrinking humans down to 1/12th their normal size. Undergoing this process not only helps the environment by leaving a miniature carbon foot print, it also makes you filthy stinking rich when your money becomes 12x more valuable since you only need miniature everything. That’s the sales pitch that Paul Safranek (Matt Damon) buys into, but when his wife (Kristen Wiig) chickens out, he’s left to endure the miniature lifestyle by himself.

Through a series of circumstances, Paul becomes friends with his neighbor Dusan (Christoph Waltz) which then leads to him meeting Vietnamese protestor Ngoc Lan Tran (Hong Chau) and helps her bring aid to the underprivileged families living in the slums just outside the wealthy community of shrunk humans.

In the trailers, Downsizing looks like it should be a fun time. Directed by Alexander Payne (Election, Sideways), it looks like a quirky little sci-fi comedy that should be an entertaining way to spend time at the movies, whether you like Matt Damon or not. Well, surprise, surprise, those pesky trailers fooled us!

The film is, in a word… boring! In two words? It’s mind-numbingly boring (hyphenated-words count as a single word, right)! There were times during this film when I felt a more apt title would have been Establishing Shot: The Movie. Admittedly, I didn’t think to at the time, but I’ll bet if you go back and time all footage that’s a) an establishing shot, b) just a character walking through a room or crowd, and c) reaction shots of people watching someone else talk, you’d end up with somewhere around 30-45 minutes of footage.

And since this movie runs 2 hours and 15 minutes, that’s a lot of freakin’ footage! And it’s not bad enough that there’s so many of these shots, but the editor, for whatever reason, leaves us with them for extended periods of time.

These long shots aren’t the only painfully awkward thing about the movie. There’s also the interaction between main characters and secondary’s and bit-parts. Nobody ever seems to actually click, despite being either friends or in relationships. I don’t know when awkwardness started to pass as cinematic humor… but it’s just not funny. It’s uncomfortable.

Speaking of secondary roles and bit parts, the actors I listed above in the summary of the plot? Those are the only professional actors in this (except for a small cameo appearance by James Van Der Beek), but there are plenty of speaking roles. Many of the scenes, therefore, felt like a high school play where one person on stage has a modicum of talent, and everyone else sounds like they’re just trying to remember what they’re supposed to say and are trying to say it so people in the back row can hear it. There’s also a sense of nervousness from these non-pro actors that shines through and turns into even more awkward uncomfortableness for the audience.

The story seems to have been written by someone with no sense of cinematic importance or timing. The opening sequence when “downsizing” is discovered and first utilized is painfully drawn out, but adds little and we’d be totally fine not knowing how it came into being. There are excessive other throw-away scenes (not counting the endless establishing shots, of course) that do nothing to provide additional story elements or insight into the characters. For what’s being sold, essentially, as sci-fi satire there’s very little of either genre. It’s an extended gag that never goes anywhere.

This movie could have easily been 90 minutes without losing anything. In fact, it might have improved the story to get to the point(s) faster and possibly improve on the comedic and/or emotional timings.

There is only one thing about this film I thought was truly enjoyable: Hong Chau. She steals the show. She’s the only actor in the whole film with a sense of comedic timing. Not only is she hilarious, she’s also the only one who gives us any sort of authentic emotion. I actually got teary-eyed when she gave her back story in the form of a monologue near the end of the 2nd act. She is a powerhouse both in drama and comedy, and I hope Hollywood utilizes her more often after this. Of course, they probably won’t because a) she’s a minority in an industry that loves to white-wash everything, and b) the rest of the movie was boring and had almost no entertainment value.

I felt lied to and cheated by the trailer that made it seem like Downsizing would be an enjoyable film. If it weren’t for professionalism, I might’ve walked out like the three couples I saw get up and leave. But apparently keeping readers informed is important, so I had to endure the boredom I felt during this thing. All for you! I think everyone who reads this review owes me a cookie for my troubles. A normal-sized one, if you please.

About the Author: Travis Seppala