Mini-Matt leaves us with a shrinking feeling
Sideways director’s latest film starts with a pretty cool premise - but is it big enough to tackle some chunky themes?
25 January, 2018 — By Dan Carrier
Matt Damon as occupational therapist Paul in Downsizing
Directed by Alexander Payne
WE all love little things: from The Borrowers to train sets, from dolls’ houses to Ant Man, miniaturisation appears in books, films and of course toys, and it seems we never grow out of it.
So Downsizing – Sideways director Alexander Payne’s latest film – starts with a pretty cool premise.
Norwegian boffins work out how they can shrink people down to about five inches, and decide this is the ultimate way of dealing with over-population: over a 200-year period make a large number of people very small and kaboom! – global warming and over-consumption is no longer an issue.
We meet occupational therapist Paul (Matt Damon), who is working for a meat-packing company and is deeply unsatisfied with his lot.
His wife Audrey (Kristen Wiig) is also stricken by a middle-aged malaise, and they get the green eyes when they meet former classmates at a school reunion who are now titchy.
They are persuaded to go on a tour of a place called Leisure Land, a community built for mini-people, and they are sorely tempted.
But the Norwegian ideal of people selflessly shrinking to help save the planet has been turned on its head: instead, being little catapults you into the 1 per cent – suddenly your big person’s bank account is huge, huge, huge.
Paul takes the plunge into being little and sets off on an adventure to carve a new life in a new society.
He meets playboy importers Dusan (Christophe Waltz) and Konrad (Udo Kier) who have worked out a way of getting luxury goods into the miniature world, and then becomes friendly with Vietnamese dissident Ngoc Lan Tran (Hong Chau), who has been shrunk against her will… It sends him off on a philosophical adventure about the nature of how an individual interacts with others, and about our collective responsibility towards one another and the planet we call home.
There are some chunky themes underneath the sheen of small people swanning around massive objects. Can an individual, by changing their habits, really do their bit to halt global warming? Or is it really up to the massive corporations that are the primary cause of pollution to curb their ways? Will science come to the rescue or is our species fundamentally doomed due to our inability to act in any other way than short-sighted self-interest?
And then there is the fact that Payne doesn’t make it funny enough to be genuinely a comedy, nor sci-fi enough to give us a dystopian think piece. In fact, he takes a very big premise and shrinks it down to a size where you can’t see over the brim of one poorly conceived scene to the next.