Oscar winner Alexander Payne’s eco-comedy has a great sci-fi concept that provokes immediate thoughts about waste management, the current state of climate change, and the human race’s own (in)ability to change. The first half hour of Downsizing does a sterling job building this near-future world where shrinking the population is not only possible, it’s beneficial to the environment AND your bank account. After that, however, the story becomes more and more like Matt Damon’s character – confused and aimless.
Damon plays Struggling Middle-Class White Man™ Paul who downsizes to avoid the financial weight pressuring him and his wife (Kristen Wiig). However, this tiny American Dream turns into a little limbo when things don’t work out as he planned. It’s only when he meets carefree party animal Dusan (Christoph Waltz in a refreshingly un-Christoph-Waltz role) and Vietnamese humanitarian renegade Ngoc (Hong Chau) that he starts to realise the world’s bullshit cannot simply be shrunk.
Chau’s first appearance may ring Asian Stereotype Alert with her character’s thick accent and housekeeping attire, but Ngoc turns out to be the deepest person in the entire film. Her backstory is tragic, she is properly motivated, and her apathy to Paul’s First World Problems is constantly amusing. Ngoc knows the class struggle hasn’t gone away, doing what needs to be done instead of feeling sorry for herself.
So it’s a damn shame she takes a bit of a backseat in the third act, along with nearly everything else. The plot takes a sharp left turn to becoming almost an entirely different film – one that seems indifferent to the film’s primary concept. Throw in an unconvincing romance with an unsatisfying conclusion and you’ve got a disappointing film made watchable thanks to solid performances and some constantly polite chuckles.
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