Movie review: Matt Damon and Kristin Wiig star in this satirical comedy with a solution to the world’s overpopulation problems: Get small. Rating: 2.5 stars out of 4.
Alexander Payne’s “Downsizing,” a message wrapped in a satirical comedy, presents a creative solution to overpopulation: Get small. His characters live in an otherwise recognizable world in which scientists have discovered a way to shrink human beings down to 13 centimeters (about 5 inches), with no negative effects. Once tiny, far fewer resources are needed; suburban comfort, in newly created planned communities for the small, can be had with just a couple of feet of space. If enough people chose this option, the world can be saved — and, inevitably, filled with tiny Benihana restaurants.
Paul Safranak (Matt Damon), a mild-mannered occupational therapist who lives in Omaha with his discontented wife Audrey (Kristen Wiig), is intrigued by what’s presented by slick salespeople as a win-win lifestyle change. These early scenes are the best parts of “Downsizing”; Payne has rounded up some terrific pitchmen in cameo roles (Neil Patrick Harris, Laura Dern, Niecy Nash, Donna Lynne Champlin), and the details of the procedure (newly shrunken humans are picked up off the operating table with presumably sterile spatulas) are both creepy and funny. (Airlines, we hear, are “getting more and more small-friendly.”) Paul and Audrey, frustrated by their inability to live the good life on their middle-class salaries, decide to take the plunge — but of course, it’s not that simple.
Unfortunately, despite a jolt of energy brought in the film’s second half by the wickedly supersized performance of Hong Chau (as a Vietnamese refugee whose story fascinates Paul), “Downsizing” runs out of steam long before it’s over. Damon, as a doughy everyman, isn’t given much to play, leaving a hole at the middle of the movie; another key character vanishes entirely; and the movie feels overlong, with a last act full of characters explaining things to each other. Perhaps “Downsizing” needed to be downsized a bit; as it is, it’s an intriguing concept that slips away.
Movie Review ★★½
‘Downsizing,’ with Matt Damon, Christoph Waltz, Hong Chau, Kristen Wiig, Udo Kier, Jason Sudeikis. Directed by Alexander Payne, from a screenplay by Payne and Jim Taylor. 135 minutes. Rated R for language including sexual references, some graphic nudity and drug use. Opens Dec. 22 at several theaters.