(M) Matt Damon, Hong Chau, Christoph Waltz, Kristen Wiig
Forget world peace, an actual carbon tax that works or solar powered vehicles, what if the only way to save the world from ourselves is to shrink people. Think about it, we could downsize our lives while also minimising our impacts to the environment and get rid of that pesky problem of over-population. Well that’s what co-writer and director Alexander Payne (Nebraska) is prescribing in the quirky and hilarious, social-satirical film Downsizing.
Paul Safranek (Matt Damon) is just a normal guy with a good heart, a little bit pathetic, but all the more, desires to make a lasting and positive impact in the world. He also just wants a stress free life with money to spend with his wife Audrey (Kristen Wiig) in Omaha and to finally move out of the house he was born in. Is that really too much to ask for? So when Paul is at his high school reunion and finds out his old classmate has downsized and living it up in Leisureland (a downsized community), Paul and Aubrey decide it’s about time they shrink.
Now at five inches tall, Paul quickly learns that downsizing your life doesn’t mean downsizing your problems. And as true as every cliché, that big fancy but empty house and life is just that, empty.
Even in Leisureville privilege still exists and it’s poignant to watch Paul’s universe ironically expand by looking beyond his own life and to those who are still struggling in Lesiureville’s regulated and hidden ghetto. This awakening gets amplified when he meets Vietnamese refugee Ngoc Lan Tran (Hong Chau) who lost her leg trying to escape a harsh political climate where she was forcibly downsized by the government. Here we see how this proposed solution to over-population of downsizing can be perverted by those in power and be used as a political weapon.
Downsizing is a Matt Damon gem of a film but it’s Hong Chau who exceeds in her role as Ngoc, so much so she’s got the Golden Globe nominee nod for her role. Ngoc is a character that has suffered both physically and mentally yet she still goes out her way in Lesiureville’s ghetto to help those around her with a rare strength. And just when you question how she keeps going; after helping her with her busy day Paul asks her whether the day is done but Ngoc turns to Paul and says “No… now let’s go praise Jesus.”
Throughout the film the characters kept referring to looking at the bigger picture. Paul slowly finds out that saving the world may just mean, first, helping your neighbour. That act of kindness has an impact that is threefold. Downsizing also toys with the idea that death gives life meaning, that knowing death is near or ever present makes you more appreciative of the world around you. It’s a morbid way to look at the world but the Bible talks about how life has meaning because it was gifted to us and it is God through Jesus who is always near (Galatians 2:20). Even though Ngoc is clear about her faith in the film she doesn’t go so far to bang Paul over the head with these truths, probably script choice not to scare mainstream Hollywood with Jesus talk. This is not to say that as a Christian character Ngoc was without her flaws and foul-language but this didn’t detract from her impressionable performance.
The film touches on a number of themes, some critics would say it doesn’t say enough about anything in particular. But its simplicity says bucket loads, following one man through a significant change in his life and watching his perspective transform as it’s influenced by social issues that pass us by every day of our lives. Overall, it touches on enough to get you thinking and also cry with laughter.
I must admit there were some gags in the film that had you wondering whether it was political correct to laugh. However the script kept cleverly moving away from the nauseating stereotypes to find comedy gold while hitting the serious notes of love and hope. The result? A film with the hallmarks of a clever script, brilliant cast and exceptional direction.
Downsizing is out on DVD, Blu-Ray and Digital now.