DOWNSIZING Review — Sci-Fi Satire and Droll Dramedy

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Downsizing reviewDOWNSIZING Review by Staci Layne Wilson

The idea of swapping one size for another one is nothing new – From Attack of the 50-Foot Woman to The Incredible Shrinking Man, we can’t get enough of this concept. There’s something especially intriguing about becoming miniaturized. The idea lends itself perfectly to comedy, horror, and of course science fiction. While director Alexander Payne’s Downsizing does certainly qualify as sci-fi, it’s more of a satire and droll dramedy.

As human consumption has nearly destroyed the planet, Swedish scientist Dr. Jorgen Asbjørnsen (Rolf Lassgård) posits the notion that we’d do much less damage if we were literally “much less.” The output of waste, garbage, fumes, and so on… would be mere blips in earth’s atmosphere. And we could live like kings in dollhouses! Asbjørnsen finds the formula to make it so.

But it’s not quite that simple – and this is the part of the story I really appreciated – there’s a lot of preparation psychologically, socially, and physically for the irreversible transformation. It’s a truly spellbinding sequence in the film, as our ostensible hero, Paul (Matt Damon) prepares.

The first third of Downsizing is masterful. But then Payne goes from master to disaster. Yet, in keeping with a true disaster, I couldn’t look away. The movie certainly is not boring. That’s due in no small part to the cast: Kristen Wiig, Christoph Waltz, Udo Kier, Jason Sudeikis, and Hong Chau are excellent; cameos from Neil Patrick Harris and Laura Dern are the cherries on top.

Unfortunately, the structure is a mess. It feels like a series of scenarios strung together, without cohesive light at the end of the tunnel. There’s also a disturbingly casual racism to the film – stereotypes abound, from the Eurotrash party boys to the “fresh off the boat” Vietnamese maid. (However, there is some attempt to show other sides to these characters… it just doesn’t quite work.)

Perhaps the most frustrating issue is Paul’s wishy-washy “everyman” lack of depth. That’s how he’s supposed to be: rudderless, looking for meaning – which is why he downsizes in the first place – but he never really evolves.

One thing that’s 100% beyond reproach is the visuals. James E. Price’s effects, Stefania Cella’s production design, and Phedon Papamichael’s cinematography are so very important to the telling of this story, and they nail it.

I’m tempted to call Downsizing an “ambitious disappointment” in sum, but I can’t quite bring myself to discount it out of hand. The movie definitely held my interest throughout, and the subject matter does bring up some curious thoughts – not only about the planet, but about us.

Rated PG-13
2 Hours 15 Minutes

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DOWNSIZING Review by Staci Layne Wilson

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Staci Layne Wilson

Staci Layne Wilson

Staci Layne Wilson is an accomplished writer / director / producer / film critic and the author the bestseller So L.A. - A Hollywood Memoir. Find her on

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