Samuel Kaufman ’19/ Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
Downsizing is an interesting movie watching experience. For maybe the first 45 minutes, it is a barely bad movie. Sure, it’s predictable and it’s not very deep, but it’s not offensively bad. At that 45-minute mark, however, something happens. A switch flips somewhere, and it becomes so terrible that it’s hilarious. The last half of the movie sends the quality on a water slide, slipping steadily downwards towards utter disaster.
The film is a high-concept dramedy directed by Alexander Payne (Nebraska, Election) about a world in the near future where you could pay to be shrunk to around an inch tall. Payne explores the worldwide implications that this technology would have. How would it effect terrorism? Class struggles? Who would profit off of it? Basically, if you would shrink yourself – leave all of your friends and family – and be essentially set for life (think about how inexpensive everything would be to produce) would you do it? The film follows Paul (Matt Damon) and his wife Audrey (Kristen Wiig) who decide to go through with the procedure in order to live their lives as rich people. However – and this isn’t a spoiler, it’s in the trailers – when Audrey pulls out of the procedure at the last minute, Paul loses half of what little he has in the divorce settlement. As a result, Paul’s life is basically the same as before, just without his wife, all of his friends, and while working a slightly worse job. Oh, and the procedure is non-reversible.
What Downsizing sets up is the plot of a pretty typical White-Guy-Learns-Things-About-Himself movie, with enough information about the unique world to supplement for the boring plot. You will care eons more about the technology and logistics of how people are shrunk than you will about Matt Damon and the lack of conflict he encounters.
What you may not see coming, is that the movie pretty quickly becomes super duper racist! Yup! Wish I was kidding on this one. At a certain point, the character of Ngoc Lan Tran is introduced as Damon’s new friend/love interest, played by Hong Chau. Chau is a very capable actress who can speak perfectly eloquent English. However, Ngoc Lan Tran does not speak perfectly eloquent English. Instead – in a movie written by two white men – she speaks in a Vietnamese accent so thick and offensive that it makes the Chinese restaurant scene at the end of A Christmas Story seem like a fair and balanced portrayal of Asian people. What makes it worse, is that her accent is played for laughs. At one point the negligent manslaughter of an elderly woman is also played for laughs. The second half of the film follows Damon as he attempts to use his magic white-guy skills to fix things for the poor Asian and Latino characters we meet. Also, inexplicably, Udo Kier and Christoph Waltz are there too.
Additionally, Chau’s character is an amputee, which is an integral plot point. I only mention this because the film includes a scene of pre-coital sensual stump-rubbing, which I’m sure the internet is already having a field day with. In one dramatic scene towards the end of the film, other characters are having a conversation while Christoph Waltz as he is staring directly into camera with the largest, goofiest smile imaginable, as if to say “ISN’T THIS HILARIOUS? I DON’T KNOW WHAT I’M DOING IN THIS TERRIBLE MOVIE! DO YOU?!”
What’s maybe most disappointing about this is the potential that was wasted. Exploring the logistics of this fictional technology is an interesting idea for a film. Alexander Payne is legitimately an incredible filmmaker (Election is a masterpiece) and the cast is full of some of the best actors and comedians working today. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t work. Downsizing isn’t fun-bad. It’s not The Room or Sharknado. It’s “interesting-bad,” which is a whole different category. It was horrible, but watching it is almost like watching a car crash in slow motion. You can’t quite bring yourself to look away, and you try as hard as you can to figure out how things could have gone so horribly, horribly wrong.
Overall Grade: F
Watch The Trailer: