April 12, 2024

Gabbing Geek

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Geek Review: Downsizing

Matt Damon shrinks himself in a search for happiness in this Alexander Payne satire.

It’s that wonderful time of year when I am able to get out to the movies and see some high-quality stuff, or at least aspiring-to-high quality stuff.  But it’s also the time of year when Watson writes reviews that get out before mine do.  He did that with Downsizing, and if you want to see what he has to say, go click that link.

If you want to see what I had to say, read on.  No pressure.  It’s still a free country.

At first glance, writer/director Alexander Payne doesn’t seem like the kind of guy to do a sci-fi comedy like Downsizing.  Payne’s style of comedy usually deals with people looking to be happier and being largely baffled by other people, often while living somewhere in Nebraska.  How a man like that turns to a movie about people shrinking themselves down to a smaller height and then living a more enjoyable life seems unusual to say the least.

As it is, the movie turns out to be exactly Payne’s forte.  Very little of the comedy deals with characters being physically smaller than the world they knew, with only a handful of visual gags about relative size coming up throughout the film.  Instead, the movie very much deals with the Payne-style search for happiness.  Matt Damon plays one Paul Safranek, a man who seems to have devoted his life to making other people happy, first in his job as an occupational therapist, then as the man taking care of his ailing mother, and finally to his dissatisfied wife Audrey (Kristen Wiig).  As a Norwegian scientist has just developed a method to permanently shrink humans to a fraction of their original height in order to save the environment, we see Paul marvel over the development but he doesn’t really get interested in it until he hears about the potential cash benefits of becoming smaller and living a life of luxury where his money will go much further than it did as a normal sized man.

And then, after he’s been shrunk, Paul learns Audrey backed out at the last minute.

Much of the movie follows Paul as he searches for…something.  He sees the highs of Leisure Land immediately, gets stuck with a telemarketing job after the divorce settlement leaving him lower than before, but then learns that even in this get-rich-quick scenario, there’s still an underclass doing manual labor for the haves of his new life.  Yes, for all the talk of shrinking to save the world, very few characters in the movie do so for that reason.  Many are doing it for the financial windfall, leading to a surreal scene where Paul and Audrey are given a sales pitch pre-shrink that looks like it came out of a million time share offers.  Paul just wants to find a place in the world, and he may or may not find it since he’s never really stopped to think about making himself happy before.  That’s Payne’s usual territory all right.

That said, I can’t say I loved the movie.  It’s the best starring role Damon has had all year, but his other two were The Great Wall and Suburbicon.  Given Payne’s proclivities, the movie would have worked a little better if the size difference came up a bit more often.  As it is, it mostly seems like the shrinking only comes up as needed for a quick gag or a rumination, with the downsizing process coming across more as a metaphor that wasn’t explored quite as much as it should be.  As such, let’s say seven and a half out of ten miniaturized chain restaurants.