HOLLYWOOD—Downsizing, it’s a term many of us have heard time and time again in our lives. When you hear it the first thing that comes to mind is scaling things back to save money and to put one in a better financial situation, but to also alleviate unnecessary stress. That is a premise touched on in the new Alexander Payne dramedy “Downsizing” starring Matt Damon and Kristen Wiig. The movie has plenty of political overtones, but as a spectator if you allow yourself to enter this world where you see humans become the size of insects or things smaller than normal it becomes so much easier to see the big picture.
Damon and Wiig star as Paul and Audrey Safranek, a married couple struggling to make ends meet in Nebraska. As a result, Paul learns about ways to change his life after hearing about ‘downsizing’ from former high school pal Dave (Jason Sudekis), who praises the procedure as having a major impact on their financial lives and making the environment a better place. The movie does indeed present a big gamble to the viewer: if you had the chance to alter your life, save money and perhaps help the world in the same process would you shrink yourself down to 5-inches?
It is tempting and I would be lying if I told you it didn’t cross my mind while watching the narrative unfold. I mean 99 percent of Americans struggle to make ends meet. It’s no secret the 1 percenters enjoy all their income without worrying about overspending, but for the rest of us that is not the case. The audience soon discovers the benefits and downfalls of downsizing when Paul decides to take on the procedure, but soon discovers drawbacks, when his wife Audrey backs out in the last minute and decides to leave him as well. Without his wife, Paul is forced to move on with his life as he makes the move to Leisureland, a community crafted for small individuals. It is here that our main character begins to question the decision he made; was it worth it? Did the promise of downsizing actually live up to the hype?
Of course not, that is the key with anything that sounds too good to be true, the consequences tend to outweigh the benefits. This leads to an interesting dynamic for Paul who meets Ngoc Lan Tran (Hong Chau), who against her will was downsized. Chau delivered an astounding performance, one that is well-rounded, delivers plenty of depth, heart and is awards worthy without a doubt. She happens to be one of the best things in a movie with an array of characters, some who are more one note than polarizing in my opinion. There are plenty of cameos from big time names like Neil Patrick Harris, Niecy Nash, James Van Der Beek and Laura Dern. As a viewer, you wish to see more of these characters as they are fun and deliver a bit of comic relief for a film that could be viewed as much heavier than expected. Oscar-winner Christoph Waltz is hilarious as Dusan, Paul’s neighbor who has a bit of a wild side.
The important point that Payne delivers with “Downsizing” is that one’s person’s success inevitably leads to the downfall to others. The movie delivers that ideology at times in a dark fashion, where you’re expected to empathize with Paul, but at the same time, not as much considering he had a CHOICE, and he chose based on what others fed him. For Lan Tran, there was no choice. She was forced into and is still struggling to survive, even though downsizing was believed to be a solution to a problem.
It’s a solution for some, but a curse for others. I elude the movie’s ‘solution’ similar to the narrative of “The Purge” which hopes to end crime by allowing the super wealthy to murder who they believe as the underserving poor without any consequence. “Downsizing” might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it is a movie that raises that important question about life, the choices we make and how they impact those we don’t know without us ever knowing unless it smacks us directly in the face.