In Alexander Payne’s toothless science-fiction comedy Downsizing (Grade: C), residing massive means residing small. Ten years after the invention of a miracle know-how, designed to resolve the planet’s intensifying overpopulation downside, folks start shrinking themselves right down to round 5 inches tall—although not, thoughts you, out of pure altruism. That is the brand new ticket to a lifetime of luxurious. As a result of the whole lot is a lot smaller, cash goes a lot additional: Any middle-class wage slave can afford a mansion the scale of a dollhouse—you simply need to be little sufficient to suit within it. It’s like that timeshare you bought suckered into shopping for or that trip home the financial institution by no means ought to have loaned you the cash to buy. Besides, in fact, as a substitute of mortgaging your future for the phantasm of wealth, you’re willfully lowering your self to the scale of a rodent to reside how the opposite half lives.
Payne typically focuses on decrease ideas, in a drabber species of Midwestern tragicomedy, and it’s tempting to easily salute his willingness to stray outsize of consolation zones; the director of Sideways and Nebraska has made a bona fide special-effects film. However Downsizing is much less a fully-formed satire than a intelligent thought stranded in first draft and stretched uncomfortably to function size. The movie’s greatest joke is its premise, a metaphor for the insane lengths folks will go for materials possession and even simply the feeling of upward mobility. However Payne nearly appears embarrassed to take the concept any additional, to essentially exploit the visible or conceptual potentialities of a world of tiny folks. As an alternative, he simply trots out one other Center-American sad-sack schlub, a literal small man for as soon as, performed this time by an admirably peculiar Matt Damon.
In fact, Downsizing by no means actually decides the film it need to be; it bails even on its sketch-comedy conceit. Damon’s character, an occupational bodily therapist named Paul Safranek, takes the leap and relocates to a form of miniature gated group referred to as Leisure Land Estates, the place he finally ends up residing under a wealthy hedonist performed, with the same old lack of restraint, by Christoph Waltz. Right here, Payne’s sentimental streak takes the wheel. Paul, alone and regretful about his resolution, finally ends up bonding with a one-legged Vietnamese dissident (Hong Chau); Payne performs her damaged English for broad, casually racist humor, whereas additionally supplying her with not one however two bathetic tearjerker monologues. (This is similar filmmaker, bear in mind, who turned “Pricey Ndugu” into an inexpensive punchline.)
Damon, who’s additionally showing at TIFF this 12 months in George Clooney’s Coen-penned Suburbicon, provides a sure bruised dignity. (One thinks, vaguely and sometimes, of Behind The Candelabra, the place the star performed one other dejected man wrestling along with his remorse about an irreversible bodily transformation.) However the movie by no means lets Paul’s existential life disaster breathe; as a substitute, it zigzags off in a gooier path, into an earnest eco drama about one’s place within the struggle for the planet. Downsizing doesn’t simply squander its magical-realist premise. It form of forgets about it. Perhaps that’s Payne’s seriocomic level: that even an unattainable improvement like voluntary shrinking would turn into simply one other side of recent life, with its haves and have-nots. However it’s nonetheless exhausting to not daydream about what a filmmaker with, effectively, a much bigger creativeness would possibly do with this outlandish thought.