Alexander Payne kicks off the 2017 Venice Film Festival with a strange, ambitious, and often pummellingly downbeat story. After Norwegian scientists make the miraculous breakthrough of cellular miniaturisation (shrinking, or “downsizing”, as the world comes to know it), communities of eco-friendly tiny people start springing up all over the world. The benefits are many, from financial rewards to living a life without danger, and after a tough financial spell, Paul Safranek (Matt Damon) and his wife Audrey (Kristen Wiig) decide to undergo the irreversible procedure.
The shrinking process itself is presented in unsparing, nightmarish medical detail, resembling a Terry Gilliam dystopia, and after Audrey witnesses her husband go through it, she panics and backs out, leaving Paul alone in the most gated community possible. Superb design and camerawork put you right inside Paul’s head as he first adjusts to the “micrommunity” known as LeisureLand, and realises, even through his size-adjusted eyes, there’s something distinctly off about this world.
As the years pass (Downsizing makes liberal use of time skips), Paul adjusts, even when obnoxious, party-loving neighbour Dusan (Christoph Waltz) moves in. But a chance encounter has Paul discovering more about LeisureLand, which, inevitably, is not the utopia it claims to be. Downsizing treats the class system as one of its central themes, portraying our unjust systems as inescapable even as we move into a futuristic promised land.
Heavy ideas pervade the entire film, from class struggle to humanity’s inability to alter itself even in the face of certain annihilation – but the comic beats fit in, for the most part, without any tonal disruption.
Payne’s script has a tendency to meander (making room for plenty of cameos), and Downsizing is overlong, but the world it creates is so simultaneously fascinating and horrifying that you don’t mind spending some more time there.
CAST: Matt Damon, Kristen Wiig, Christoph Waltz, Laura Dern, Brigette Lundy-Paine
DIRECTOR: Alexander Payne
WRITERS: Alexander Payne, Jim Taylor
SYNOPSIS: A social satire in which a guy realizes he would have a better life if he were to shrink himself.