A Tonally Confused Misleading Film
Downsizing is the perfect example of misleading advertising in a film trailer. Despite a strong premise and intriguing idea, Downsizing is a tonally confused mess and nothing like the trailer would lead you to believe. Lost in a myriad of half-baked ideas and an abundance of coherence in its plot, Downsizing feels like a missed opportunity. The first 45 minutes or so are good and feel progressive; seeing Matt Damon’s apathetic character Paul Safranek explore the political and societal pros and cons of shrinking himself is the highlight of an otherwise troubled film. There’s no doubt there’s potential here but its squandered in a messy, questionable script that can’t quite work out what sort of film it wants to be. There are hints of dark comedy, romance, drama and sci-fi here but the film flits between them with reckless abandon and feels largely contrived in the various political commentaries ham-fisted into the plot.
The story jumps forward in time several times, beginning with the invention of shrinking people and eventually ending up with Paul as a miniature version of himself. On top of trying to grapple with his new-found tininess, Paul’s situation is made worse when his wife decides against shrinking herself and abandons Paul by himself. Throughout this 2 hour film, Paul stumbles blindly through different situations raising questions around the ethical and societal impact shrinking would have on the planet and the economy. These ideas are largely abandoned in the second half of the film as Paul searches for happiness. I can’t help but feel a better narrative would have been exploring how Paul deals with his wife not joining him as a little person rather than brushing over this period of grief. We do see brief glimmers of a divorce in a small 2 minute scene but it’s barely mentioned again for the rest of the film.
Although the credits only list 2 writers, there are times where Downsizing feels like it was written by a slew of different people and stitched together. The supporting cast is largely underdeveloped and never expand beyond the stereotypical archetypes they’re given. Vietnamese Ngoc Lan Tran (Hong Chau) is the most endearing character here and her mix of innocence, wicked dialect and curiosity shines in a film void of charismatic characters. Paul’s apathy toward life for much of this film projects back on the audience although tiny bursts of emotion do help ignite parts of the film. Ironically, these occur during his angry outbursts toward his wife’s abandonment.
With a more focused script and a good tonal focus, Downsizing could easily be a highly enjoyable and satisfying film. Unfortunately the blend of drama, comedy and political commentary act as a dissonance in this troubled picture. Paul’s character begrudgingly shuffles from scene to scene with such apathy that it makes it hard to root for anyone other than the excellent Hong Chau who brings some much-needed energy to the film. Downsizing is a missed opportunity and the ham-fisted way it throws in a political commentary but never really goes anywhere with it, typifies what a tonally confused film this is. It’s a shame but Downsizing shrinks any hope during its opening 45 minutes with an overlong, frustratingly poor film.