Not the quirky high concept comedy the trailer promises, “Downsizing” instead sets out to suggest that no matter how small you make youself, the big problems – the really big problems – never really go away.
Concerned by runaway population growth, Norwegian scientist Dr. Asbjørnsen (Rolf Lassgård) invents an irreversible process which shrinks a person to approximately five inches. Fifteen years later, Paul (Matt Damond) and Audrey (Kirsten Wiig) Safranek decide to undergo ‘downsizing’ after meeting old friends at a school reunion, as a way to escape their financial and job troubles. But just before the procedure, Audrey changes her mind, leaving Paul to explore the small world on his own.
Cinematic shrinkage isn’t anything new, as fans of “The Fantastic Voyage” and “Honey, I Shrunk The Kids” can tell you but where “Downsizing” differs from its predecessors is in its astonishing aimlessness. From the moment Paul shrinks down, the film seems undecided as to what it wants to be or what it wants to be about. There’s zaniness as Christoph Waltz channels Alexandr the Meerkat juxtaposed awkwardly with pointed commentary about socioeconomic inequalities and the rotten underbelly of the so-called American Dream. Just as quickly, though, the film drops these themes to explore some half-formed environmentalist musings. It’s this meandering back and forth between the themes, as well as the back story of Vietnamese dissident Ngoc Lan Tran (Hong Chau), that undermines anything the film wants to say.
There are fine performances – particularly from Chau, Waltz and an impishly eccentric Udo Keir – and the visual effects are pretty good (apart from some surprisingly ropey miniaturisation effects early on) but “Downsizing” ends up being far less than the sum of its parts, a fate partially self-inflicted thanks to some odd and disruptive editing choices which bear the scars of focus groups and studio interference. It could have been a quirky, laugh out loud comedy or a thought-provoking sci-fi parable but in trying to be both, it ends up being neither.