Dec 19, 2017

It has lessons aplenty for those who consider easy ways out of modern excesses.


Grade: B+

Director: Alexander Payne (Sideways)

Screenplay: Payne, Jim Taylor (About Schmidt)

Cast: Matt Damon (Suburbicon), Christoph Waltz (Inglorious Bastards)

Rating: R

Runtime: 2 h 15 m

by John DeSando

The easiest part to get of writer/director Alexander Payne’s sci-fi comedy, Downsizing, is the allegory of shrinking ourselves and our possessions to miniature to save the planet from our excess yet become miniature plutocrats in the process. The more challenging part is to understand how he can pack climate change and economic decay also into his themes.

Paul (Matt Damon), an occupational therapist who at best is just a nice guy, and his ambitious wife, Audrey (Kristen Wiig), decide to have a richer life by downsizing, but contrary to our conventional use of that term.  To shrink means to have a bigger miniature mansion, the kind he couldn’t afford in a regular size that his shrinking paycheck keeps him from. Of course, in his decision to help out the planet, he is really helping to mitigate his envy of his richer friends in their McMansions.

Payne and co-writer Jim Taylor deftly move the Twilight-Zone story into a melodrama that stresses the humanity of a man who forsakes family and friends for a seemingly higher purpose such as saving the environment. However, it still comes back to greed.

At least until Paul experiences caring for those less fortunate than he, for those shrunk but still with relatively nothing, viz., the poor, the immigrant, and the sick to name a few disadvantaged souls living in a ghetto-tenement world far from the eyes of the advantaged. Once Paul witnesses real poverty he can never turn back to his truly shrunken life of excess and worthlessness.

Where Payne veers from the staples of his drama is bringing in an apocalyptic climate change, a danger not even appearing earlier. More than that misplaced motif is that he has nicely set up already the humanity that will save Paul, who must choose between survival and being together for however long with the ones he truly loves.

Downsizing is rare, a comedy in sci-fi mode with a toolbox of social concerns.  It’s a child of Honey, I Shrunk the Kids with a Twilight Zone spirit, and it’s a pleasant holiday diversion.

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at