By Adam Ray Palmer
Day one of the 74th Venice Film Festival has arrived and with it comes the premiere of Alexander Payne’s new flick Downsizing.
Downsizing is an all-star affair with Matt Damon and Christoph Waltz topping the bill. The supporting roles include Kristen Wiig, Hong Chau, Laura Dern, Jason Sudeikis and Neil Patrick Harris.
Downsizing follows the mid-life crisis of the Safranek family. Paul (Matt Damon) and Audrey (Kristen Wiig) are struggling to make ends meet, in a bit of a lull and need a way to reinvigorate their lives. Over in Norway, scientists have found a way to save the planet for future generations by ‘downsizing’ people, and thus, maybe the perfect answer the Paul and Audrey’s woes.
Downsizing for the Safraneks means more money, potentially more happiness and for a better word, downsizing their problems… or so Paul thinks at least. However, when both Paul and Audrey agree to downsize and move to the ‘incredible Leisureland’, the duo hit a problem when something doesn’t quite go to plan; but I’ll leave that there.
Paul Safranek is a down-on-his-luck occupational therapist and Audrey yearns for the finer things in life; ultimately making Paul’s failed doctor career all the more longing. So, with the downsizing process, to become small means you become rich. Your assets stay the same, but as the products you buy in the little world are 100th the size, so is the price – you become a millionaire overnight.
And so, we see how downsizing gets turned into a marketing bonanza with what seems to be mimicking an iPhone launch party as the first 36 downsized people are revealed. Everyone in attendance is sold the environment benefits, but the real hook for the process is how they’ll live like suburban royalty. However, as Paul gets smaller, his problems seem to grow bigger.
Downsizing really is a live-action fairy tale. It reminds me of The Borrowers meets The Island. It’s farfetched, yet in the world we live in, Payne makes it seem entirely plausible. Alexander has fun with this film. There’s a scene in particular that is actually quite menacing on the surface, which is the process of being downsized. You’re shaven completely, your fillings are removed and then you are placed in an air locked room to be injected with the transformational juice. Once the procedure is complete, a giant spatula scoops you up onto a tiny bed. It’s such a fun sequence, yet quite sinister.
Payne isn’t the only one having on blast though, Christoph Waltz is a scene-stealer once again here. He’s alluring, he’s comedic and he can make you laugh with a simple expression. Waltz’s Dusan is Paul’s neighbour in Leisureland. He throws audacious house parties, he’s obnoxious but ridiculously loveable. He’s brutally honest but you respect that. He delivers his lines with an absolutely zing. He bounces off Matt Damon well who is quite wet here. His character is one of mild-manners but it’s a slog for 135 minutes. The comedy quips throughout the script really help Payne keep the audience intrigued.
Overall, it’s a solid opener to the festival. My expectations were high and sadly it didn’t match them. I expect love for this movie at the box office though, especially because of the cast. I also suspect some award season love for the supporting roles too. Waltz and Hong Chau (Gong Jiang) could be decent bets. But hey, Payne just doesn’t make bad films and with Downsizing; he’s provided a sensitive crowd-pleaser.
Cineroom’s Rating: 3.5 Stars