While the satire is hard to miss, Downsizing suffers from too many ideas confined to a small space.

For those unfamiliar with his body of work, Alexander Payne has made just six films, and as the writer/director, all these films are social satires penned with sharp wit. His social commentary is usually about mid-life crises, personal tragedy, dysfunctional relationships and pretty much life’s difficult moments, which almost always lead to a breaking point that has the impacted character in a better or worse situation. This transformative period, which comes standard with dark humour, is usually the make or break point in Payne’s films. Which is why Downsizing – in theory – is Payne’s most ambitious film yet. The concept is brilliant, to say the least, and deals with multiple issues on a global scale – over consumption, global warming, prejudice, poverty, crime, and even the future of human existence. These are addressed very early in the film followed by an astounding solution. What if we could all live a very lavish life (think fully loaded eight bedroom mansion for life) for less than $60 a day, and in the process, eradicate all those aforementioned problems?

The fix-it-all solution is a ground breaking discovery where humans are shrunk to 0.4 percent of the body mass, or about five inches tall. Although irreversible, the titular procedure is a huge success that gives rise to entire communities around the world, where each ‘community’ is roughly the size of a regular theme park. One pool party scene has a large group of ‘small’ people sharing a ‘normal’ sized bag of potato crisps. So instead of plundering resources that are already depleting at an alarming rate, downsizing requires only a tiny fraction of what we would normally consume in a day. In terms of numbers, that’s almost a hundredth less of everything consumed, including trash and our carbon footprint. So when Matt Damon’s therapist and wife (Kristen Wiig) are influenced by their small sized friend (Jason Sudeikis) to take the plunge, their savings of $50,000 nets them a whopping equivalent of $ 12 million, much more than required for some prime real estate at Leisureland, a downsized community.

The downsizing segment is perhaps the best part of the film as it is funny and strange at the same time with creative attention to detail. At this point, Payne is clearly having fun with the story and the satire is unmissable – Size doesn’t matter when you’re rich.  But there’s trouble brewing in paradise. Soon after Damian’s Paul is taken under the wing by his mysterious neighbour and party animal Dusan (a comfortably eccentric Christoph Waltz), the story takes a ninety degree turn with the arrival of a Vietnamese refugee (Hong Chau in her breakout role) in Leisureland. Although wonderfully played and through no fault of Ms Chau, her character becomes a mashup of several ideas Payne is playing with all at once. At first her accent seems genuinely funny, and then it lingers to a point of becoming exotic, all the while taking its toll on Paul, who now appears to have become a lost puppy. And then, out of nowhere, the film takes another turn and sprints towards an apocalyptic conclusion before offering a very unimaginative and thoroughly hackneyed ending.

 Yet much before we get to that ending, the inevitable question will be – what exactly is going on Mr Payne? Did we just sit through a film full of original ideas, only to watch those ideas shrink into thin air? Sadly, and after all this film has to say about the current state of socio-political and environmental issues, visual effects with convincing sense of scale, strong performances from the leads, Downsizing is equivalent to a marksman firing dead centre at a target, the bullet hitting the bullseye, but falling to the floor without penetrating. Not even a scratch.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

About Lloyd Bayer

Besides his passion for travelling, photography and scuba diving, Lloyd is a prolific film critic having contributed hundreds of film reviews to web and print journals, including IMDb and local daily Khaleej Times.