"Downsizing" was marketed as a harmless comedy with a silly premise. Matt Damon as a down-on-his-luck everyman who decides to undergo a trendy new procedure where he's shrunk down to five inches tall, thus allowing him to live large in a miniature utopia. His wife gets cold feet, leaving him stranded in the strange new world. Unable to go back, he learns to love it, both through the perks of drinking shots from a now-giant bottle of Absolut Vodka, and from helping those less fortunate than he now is.
I went into this movie fully expecting the story to play out exactly like that. I was okay with that. I thought the premise had a lot of opportunities for comedy, like the scene from the trailer where Damon's told to sign his name "as big as he can" on his divorce documents. I wanted to see what other gags they came up with (and with the R rating, I hoped, lots of the raunchy kind). But "Downsizing" is a film that hates its own premise - and its audience. And it isn't a comedy.
This is, unbelievably, an environmental film. We learn before the title card - but after you've bought your ticket - that the scientist behind this process intended for everyone to voluntarily be shrunk in order to lessen their carbon footprint. Having a message is fine, but this film is completely unsuited to it. I wanted to know so much more about what it was like in the miniature towns, how they're maintained, and the massive changes in society caused by an increasing portion of the population choosing to cloister themselves in remote parts of the world. But details like this are ignored by the film, brushed aside in order to push its environmental message.
The environmental message puts an immediate stop to the comedy at around the twenty-minute mark. It's here, after the aforementioned divorce, that Matt Damon loses his house in the settlement, is forced to live in an apartment under a sociopathic Christoph Waltz, and befriends a Vietnamese refugee who lives in a miniature slum located just outside the compound's exterior wall. From this point forward, this is a completely different film. I'll admit, the idea of there still being inequality in this utopia was interesting to me, as I thought we could explore the limitations of the world of the film. But the film chooses not to do this because that would have meant that our environmentally-conscious scientist who came up with all this was an imperfect character, and the film couldn't have that. Once again, the message hamstrung the film.
The only purpose of the bizarre slum scene is introducing a Vietnamese refugee who apparently was sent overseas in a TV box, a brutal and inappropriately comedic allegory to human trafficking. This refugee is one of the worst characters in the film - loud, obnoxious, and stubborn. While we first empathize with her as someone forced to clean houses for a living, we next see her steal painkillers from her boss, give her roommate too many of them so that she dies from an overdose, and never thanks Damon for his help, including fixing her fake leg.
One of the many things the Vietnamese girl forces Damon to do is bring her along on a trip to Norway, where both learn from the creator of "downsizing" that all of humanity is going to go extinct because a methane bubble released from a melting Antarctic ice shelf is being released into the atmosphere. Both happen to arrive at the scientist's compound just in time for them to escape into a subterranean tiny town for 8,000 years until the atmosphere corrects itself. Damon wants to go along, but the Vietnamese girl won't go, and guilts him out of it. And so, Damon returns to his miniature home, confronting his own death.
You may be thinking that all this sounds depressing. You're right. Worst movie to release on Christmas since "Marley and Me." Late in the third act, there are three moments thrown in for comedic effect. Each is so jarring that they feel completely out-of-place and inappropriate because by then, you've completely forgotten that this movie had a few laughs in the first act.
The message continues to bludgeon you to the very last frame. The environment. The environment. The environment. Any character who questions this is written off as a crackpot (and they're invariably white). This includes Damon's dying mother, who asks the perfectly logical question why scientists are more concerned with shrinking people than curing her illness. There's also a man at a bar who asks why downsized people should vote when they essentially live on reservations maintained by full-sized people, often pay no taxes, and are wholly unconcerned with the outside world even though one well-placed bomb could wipe them all out.
It's also a tone-deaf film when you really get down to it. The trailers seemed to set up for a theme about the pursuit of happiness, where perhaps Damon finds himself choosing a kind of life he already had before the procedure. But the lesson instead seems to be that humanity is bad, that we're all the seeds of our own destruction, doomed to die like dinosaurs. So the best way to save us all is to shrink ourselves to the point that none of us are big enough to build a spacecraft large enough to stop the asteroid that will crash into the planet and kill us all anyway.
The film also did a great job of making you not want to get "downsized." From getting your hair and eyebrows shaved to getting a big rubber thing stuck up your rear end, to being forced to drive the same tiny bland white electric cars, there's just not much of a list of positives here. The community Damon picks doesn't even seem all that nice - just move to Tustin and save yourself the medical costs. Plus, there isn't even anything to do - no miniature sports teams or movie theaters. They all seem to just sit around and talk, as if everyone who does this is just the most interesting person, and conversation is all they need to get by on. I love that they mentioned having three Cheesecake Factories in one community, as if someone is going to sell all their possessions and shrink themselves just to work at the Cheesecake Factory.
For a film trying desperately to be contemporary, "Downsizing" is a terrible title, too. The only context for the term is being let go by your job, a reality facing too many in recent years. Turning the word into a positive with some environmental spin is just stupid to me.
But, hey, there's lots of full frontal male nudity in this movie. That creepy, clinical, Westworld-style nudity. Don't know why that was in there and not, say, that Absolut Vodka scene from every trailer Paramount made for this movie.
We need to have truth in advertising when it comes to movie trailers. There was a clear intent by both Paramount and Matt Damon to mislead moviegoers into thinking they were seeing some kind of fun "Honey, I Shrunk The Kids!" film, but with adult humor deserving its R rating. What we get instead is the same thing that's on every news channel - politics, politics, and more politics. I'm tired of it, and you should be, too.
Start being part of the solution by not seeing this movie.
P.S. I'm not going to carp about this without offering solutions, so here goes: if you're not going to make this a comedy, why not make it an action movie? They put Jason Bourne in it for Pete's sake. Why not have the scientist who came up with the program be the villain who looks over the tiny town like Cristof in "The Truman Show," getting off on playing God by causing disasters and demanding obedience from those under his control. Maybe he even stomps his way through the town himself (like a Godzilla film or that mole scene in "Arrested Development"). Illustrate the changes in the law allowing him to get away with it, or how authorities turn a blind eye in favor of their own interests. Have Damon reach a moment like in "Attack on Titan" where he realizes everyone who's been downsized is someone deemed unfit by the ruling class, that their world is not a home, but a prison. Then have him spearhead some kind of "Gulliver's Travels" effort to negotiate the compound and take down the scientist.
Review by fredlondi from the Internet Movie Database.