A review of Alexander Payne's 'Downsizing'

February 21, 2018


Alexander Payne brings a fresh insight to the world preservation debate with this humorous, but genius, solution to population growth- human ‘downsizing’. The innovators of the scientific process, Dr Asbjornsen and Dr Jacobsen present their initiative as “the only practical remedy to humanity’s greatest problem” whilst also spurring viewers to question the limits that they’d go to in order to obtain a life of luxury.


This ‘Gulliver’s Travels’/ ‘Honey, I shrunk the kids’ style film begins with a light-hearted, but slightly harrowing, perspective of marriage and adulthood. Middle-aged couple Paul and Audrey Safranek (played by Matt Damon and Kristen Wiig), after much deliberation and persuasion from their newly ‘small’ friends Dave and Carol, take the greatest leap in their relationship so far and agree to downsize. Their desired new town, Leisureland, tempts them with the opportunity to “live like kings” in a mansion costing much less than their current crowded flat, and the promise of immediate retirement. But when it comes down to the crunch and they must depart during the shrinking medical procedure, Audrey gets cold feet and the story undergoes a remarkable shift.


Having transformed from 6ft to the size of a needle, and from married to divorced, it seems that life for Paul couldn’t have taken a larger summersault. Nevertheless, things prove to get even worse for him when his new party fanatic of a neighbour, Dusan, persists on giving Paul a headache worth complaining about with his nightly house parties. But once again- becoming a common theme in this film- things take yet another unexpected turn and Paul is soon having a taste of the party life, which he had never experienced in his ‘old’ life, himself. It’s from this moment, after approximately an hour of screen time, that Payne decides to bring the film’s moral message into play- with Paul’s knowledge of bionic limbs at its foundation- yes, it gets even more random!


The second part of the film sees the film’s second female protagonist, Ngoc Lan Tran (played by Hong Chau), shuffle into the increasingly humble care of Paul Safranek as his offer to fix her battered artificial leg escalates to being her taxi service, assisting her humanitarian escapades and most comically, becoming her cleaning substitute. Whilst all this time spent together helps present Payne’s moral that sometimes luxuries must be sacrificed for what is ethically right, the romance which unexpectedly blossoms between the two is an addition to the film which arguably doesn’t quite ‘fit’. The relationship between the two emerges during their journey with party-goer Dusan and his equally arrogant friend Konrad to Norway- the home of the first ever community to downsize. It was at this stage which I would have highlighted as a suitable place to end the film, as Ngoc finally gets to fulfil her dream of visiting the country.

The final part of the film features a new initiative to continue to preserve mankind with a new underground space designed for continued living without the threat of global warming. Paul must make a conscious decision between joining it or remaining in the real world. This is the point when the film finally reaches its closure, although introducing such a new initiative I believe could have been saved for a sequel to the film.

‘Downsizing’ is a hugely creative and clever presentation of both geographical and scientific evolution. A revelation of ideas which I cannot fault, however I think that some aspects of the plot could have had less screen time and adding other scenes, such as Paul potentially visiting his cowardly ex-wife, would have made room for more humour and a consistently engaging storyline throughout.


                                                  TJU x 


Images copyright of Flickr/Ma_Co2013



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