DOWNSIZING Review: 1 out of 10 (Shrink Away)
DOWNSIZING is the worst film of 2017. Actually, I went back and looked at my worst list of 2016 and it is worse than any of those films too (which is quite an accomplishment). This is a film that is so awful it would likely have earned my first "0" score in over 9 years of writing film reviews. However, it is the first 20 minutes of the movie with its promising premise of a creative idea that bumps this reviewer's score upward so slightly. However, if truth be told and I was scoring the remaining 100 minutes or so of this film, it most certainly would have received a goose egg of a rating from yours truly.
And that initial premise is a solid one. Directed by Alexander Payne and written by Payne and Jim Taylor, the film stars Matt Damon, Christoph Waltz, Hong Chau, Jason Sudeikis and Kristen Wiig, although those last two names are really more of cameo roles, to be honest. DOWNSIZING imagines what might happen if humans could be shrunk to a height of 5 inches--all in an effort to reduce one's global footprint and help save the planet's resources. The catch--the shrinking process cannot be reversed. The upside is that people soon realize how much further their money goes into a miniaturized world, and with the promise of the life of the wealthy 1% in custom communities for the smaller population, Paul Safranek (Matt Damon) and wife Audrey (Kristen Wiig) decide to abandon their financially stressed lives in Omaha in order to become small and move to a new downsized community—a choice that triggers life-changing adventures. And if the movie would have continued down this path, it might have been interesting, compelling, or even entertaining.
It isn't that every movie needs to deliver what the audience "wants" or even expects. Sometimes a movie does something unexpected. It takes a gamble with the audience and it pays off. But in this case, not only is it unexpected...it is unwanted. The film has some comedic riffs on the lies of the American Dream and the lifestyle and bourgeoisie and the 1%. This film might have taken some interesting directions like the moral decay inside the new community of Leisure Town. Maybe Paul could have been involved with his friend Dusan (Waltz) and his smuggling ring of high priced goods to Leisure Town. Maybe not all is as clean and shiny as it appears. There are plenty of opportunities to make political hay and offer the movie that is promised--or even try to deliver on the premise it creates.
Instead, this film takes a jarring tilt that moves quickly into a story about a Vietnamese dissident (Chau) who lives in the never mentioned slums of Leisure Town. Though her backstory is compelling as one who was imprisoned in Vietnam and survived as a political refugee--none of that is highlighted. In a movie trying to take a political stand it takes its most potentially interesting role and turns it into a racist caricature. Sadly, this role is reduced to a bad Asian stereotype, and worse it is done for the sake of humor. Played throughout the film for little more than a racist stereotype, it is embarrassing to witness and uncomfortable to watch. Not since FULL METAL JACKET's "Love you long time" has their been something this difficult to sit through. The shock that her performance is nominated for a Golden Globe is only tempered by remembering that it is the Golden Globes and they are as stupid as it gets when it comes to handing out awards. If the first shift of the plot wasn't jarring enough, it continues to pivot in radical ways to other political issues like environmentalism while meanwhile forcing a romantic angle that feels more hackneyed and artificial than some of the set decorations of "GIANT" things in the small world. (as I side note on the set decoration, I was terribly disappointed waiting for the scene from the trailer of Waltz putting a tap on a giant vodka bottle for a party. That scene never made the film. Too bad, the entire film badly needed a vodka party.)The film isn't finished taking hard left turns, however.
DOWNSIZING includes a sudden shift in Matt Damon's uptight Paul as he *literally* overnight becomes a (not kidding) Baja shirt wearing bongo playing hippie ready to join a Norwegian cult and *start over again* with another exclusive small person community. And yet, that entire change to his person that included speeches about defining self and relational sacrifice is abandoned by Paul when he is faced with... A hike.
There are few movies that seem absolutely inexplicable--that everything it attempts is an utter failure. Films that are so jarringly awful that they take days to shake from one's mind. DOWNSIZING is a film that is so tonally off, gratingly racist, and politically ham-fisted that to call it misguided is to be complimentary. To say it is a misfire by Payne is too kind. It is a miserable mess of a movie that I regret seeing. Its single score on my scale is only offered by the promise of a premise that wasn't kept. The cruelest of "Rick-Rolling" I have ever seen in movie marketing. If there was ever a movie I would stump against and encourage people to avoid with every fiber of their being, DOWNSIZING is it. Avoid or live with lifelong regret.