When I first saw a trailer for Downsizing starring Matt Damon, I thought it looked like a pretty funny concept for a comedy, because how could a film about people shrinking themselves to become rich not be? After finally screening the film, my first assumptions about its plot were way off, and I could see why it was a polarizing film with both fans and critics. It’s not really a pure comedy by any means, and it quickly pulls the rug from under you with a twist that sends its plot in a direction I never saw coming. It’s not a bad twist, in fact the shocking change in tone allows for the film to play out in many ways, but by the time it concludes, something about the narrative feels empty. It’s not a bad empty feeling that leaves you wishing you could recapture the two hours of your life you spent watching it, but it’s also not a feeling of elation and satisfaction.
Downsizing really is one of those films that half of the people that watch it will enjoy it, while the other half will consider it to be a waste of time, which is a shame because there are plenty of narrative roads the film could have taken. I’m including myself in the appreciative crowd when it comes to my take on the film. While it didn’t quite entertain me like The Shape of Water and Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, I did somewhat enjoy my time spent with Damon’s diminutive Paul Safranek and his journey in becoming small.
Paul is a character that a lot of people can relate to. He’s a hardworking and caring occupational therapist that struggles to enjoy the finer things in life, so he and his wife opt to go small, which is a new scientific breakthrough that was invented to help with the world’s environment due to overpopulation. However, as with anything involving humans and greed, many use the technology to become super-rich, because becoming tiny can turn a meager $150K into $12 million in one of the small people habitat resorts spread across the planet. This motif is one of many messages on our own society present in Downsizing. The concepts of greed and the destruction of the Earth are at the forefront of this film’s takes on our own society, but so are other social problems such as the abuse of dictators, and how all societies, no matter how perfect they can be, will almost always revert to a class system based on wealth. It really felt like money and its power over humans was a main point this film tried to make, but like many of its narratives, the message is more of an underlying theme than a key part of the plot.
Anyway, so Paul and his wife opt to go small, but then the film’s plot twist happens, and what you thought you were about to see play out over the remainder of the film is nothing that you expected going into the screening. The narrative shifts from a light and humorous take on becoming rich by shrinking yourself to 5-inches tall, into a somber look at a man struggling to figure out his place in the world. Now this narrative itself has potential, but like the other threads woven in this movie, it never feels like it gets paid off. I can’t go into much detail due to spoiling the overarching story, but in a nutshell you’re supposed to feel like Matt Damon’s character experienced huge amounts of emotional growth and changed his ways. In all honesty though, Paul already was a pretty solid guy, which is established early on in the film, so it’s odd that the main narrative is one of him becoming a new man. The new Paul feels like the same person, so while he is an entertaining and somewhat deep character to begin with, his journey in the film really didn’t do anything to make him feel different by the end, which I think the film’s Director and Writer were hoping audiences would feel.
The feeling of nothing really happening by the end of Downsizing is why many who have seen it don’t enjoy it, but oddly enough, I still didn’t consider my screening to be a waste of life. The film is competent and features some great ideas and more than a few solid scenes, but it just never latches on to a core plot point to provide the audience with some form of resolution by the time the credits roll. It’s a movie where you feel like you were just watching someone’s major life moments take place, and none of them really stand out or offer a complete narrative arc. Certain threads are started but never finished, while the main message of Paul’s emotional transformation is one that feels weak, because as I mentioned before, I found Paul to be a great guy from the get go, so I didn’t find his transformation to be that great or impactful. It felt normal, which is probably why Downsizing is a 50/50 type of affair in terms of loving or hating it.
Like I mentioned earlier, Downsizing is not a complete waste of time. It just doesn’t go they way anyone would expect, and by the time it ends you feel like you were watching a good man become a good man, so the ending is hollow. Nothing really happens outside of watching a good guy get a bad break, but rather than that break changing who he is completely, it just reinforces the fact that the guy was always good. With that being said there are some great scenes full of interesting dialogue, and the movie does touch on some important social conundrums such as overpopulation and the environment, but it just never manages to latch onto one narrative and execute its message and lesson. I do think this is a film that you can wait until it hits the home viewing market to see it, but if you’re in need for some lightweight entertainment using interesting social subjects as a backdrop, then Downsizing is worth a trip to the theater. Just don’t expect it to play out like the trailers suggest, because this film is far from an adult-centric Honey I Shrunk the Kids.
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