Sunday, March 18, 2018

Video review: "Downsizing"

If they gave out awards for most promising films that come out during the awards cycle and turn out to be a colossal disappointment, I’ve no doubt “Downsizing” would be a top contender to win.

Starring Oscar winners Matt Damon and Christoph Waltz, from director Alexander Payne (“The Descendants”) and frequent script collaborator Jim Taylor (“Sideways”), both Academy Award owners themselves, “Downsizing” looked to be a pointed satire about consumerism and American obsession with status.

Matt Damon plays ordinary schlep Paul Safranek, who volunteers to go through the process of “minimization” along with his wife, Audrey (Kristen Wiig). This is a relatively new procedure developed in Norway where humans are shrunk down by 99%, so they consume much less food, water and space, thus putting the planet on a stronger path to a stable environment.

Of course, that’s not how it’s sold to the public. It turns out that it pays to “get small” -- quite literally. Like a lot of middle-class Americans, Paul and Audrey are struggling to get by financially. But it turns out that little folks live like kings, because of some screwy economic calculations that are deliberately left a little fuzzy.

Go little, retire early and trade in your hovel for a McMansion! Sounds great, right?

Things go south quickly for Paul when (spoiler alert) Audrey gets cold feet right before the procedure, and he’s left lonely, divorced and working in a lowly call center for little folk. His next door neighbor, Dusan (Waltz), lives the high life filled with parties and connections.

Through him Paul meets Ngoc Lan Tran (Hong Chau), a political activist-turned-maid who opens up his eyes to the economic inequity at the heart of the minimization racket. The haves live the life of luxury they don’t deserve, while people like Tran can’t even get a decent prosthetic for her missing leg.

(Accenting the split between the ultra-rich and those who serve them is always an odd ploy coming from mainstream Hollywood, where multimillionaires are waited on hand and foot by subsidence help. But let’s move on.)

Things get really strange when the story takes the trio to Norway, where we meet some of the scientists who first developed the breakthrough and are now having second thoughts.

The first act of “Downsizing” is fairly smart and filled with funny observations. But right at the point where Paul is abandoned by his spouse, the movie jumps completely off the tracks and never finds its way back.

Lesson: if you’re going to hire Kristen Wiig, don’t give her the boot 30 minutes into the film.

Video extras are a might slim, and are limited to the Blu-ray version: the DVD contains none. They consist of six making-of documentary shorts: “Working with Alexander,” “The Cast,” “A Visual Journey,” “A Matter of Perspective,” “That Smile” and “A Global Concern.”



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