Downsizing

Hey look, Kristen. That's my career shrinking.

This was perhaps the biggest disappointment I had all year. I’m such a big fan of Alexander Payne movies — Election, About Schmidt, Sideways, Nebraska, The Decendants — but this story might have worked better if Charlie Kaufman (Adaptation, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) directed it. I said a similar thing about Matt Damon’s last movie Suburbicon; it would’ve worked better if the Coen brothers directed it.

That doesn’t mean this film is a complete waste. I had a blast with the first hour; but the movie is over two hours, and it goes down the most insane paths. Sure, it’s not predictable, but…they should’ve just stuck with the premise they had going in the first half, dealing with the fish-out-of-water/midlife crisis story.

Damon plays that character he does so often — an average guy we can all relate to. He’s Paul Safranek, an occupational therapist married to Audrey (Kristen Wiig). They don’t have the best marriage, but…there’s one way they can get the large home they yearn for. As Niecy Nash (RENO 911), a comedic actress that always cracks me up, tells them…they can “downsize” and become little people. No, not those little people. Scientists have created a way to make humans five inches tall. And as long as those gold fillings in your teeth don’t explode and blow your brains out during the process, you can afford the biggest mansion imaginable (I’m just not sure why they say it costs $100,000 for a mansion, when you can just buy a Barbie dream house for $19 at Toys ‘R Us). In a fun cameo by Neil Patrick Harris, he does a timeshare style presentation showing all the things his wife spends their money on. For example, a diamond bracelet and necklace when you’re small, can be had for under $100.

So the couple decide to downsize, and live in Leisureland Estates (a name that made me chuckle, because my late grandmother lived at Leisureland in Seal Beach; a movie like this could’ve been made about the adventures I saw those old folks go through, but I digress).

Paul’s neighbor is Dusan (Christoph Waltz), who runs a shady business dealing in black market items. He throws elaborate parties, with all the sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll your small body can handle.  

The movie has some things to say and satirize, but it just gets so boring and ludicrous. It’s as if Al Gore tinkered with the screenplay, and felt they needed to cover overpopulation and climate change. There’s some stuff about social class, which brings up an interesting thing. Actress Hong Chau is getting praise for her role as a Vietnamese refugee, but her character’s portrayal is rather offensive. I’m wondering what Payne’s ex-wife Sandra Oh (Sideways) would think of it. It was such a racist caricature, I’m surprised to see how many critics are praising the role (it’s already gotten a nomination with one of the awards shows). There are times the audience will be laughing at her broken English. The laughs should come from dialogue, not thick accents. That’s just lazy writing. It’s a shame, too. The character had an interesting backstory.

All of this makes this whole thing feel like an SNL skit — from Jason Sudeikis as the funny, conniving friend trying to convince the couple about the luxurious of Leisureland (the commercials show a scene that isn’t in the movie — the guys drinking from a huge Vodka bottle that’s been tipped over). The Dusan character could’ve been better. Heck, you have two-time Oscar winner Waltz waltzing around as a little person. Yet he’s often meaner than he needed to be, and just doesn’t seem realistic as a fully fleshed person (perhaps the wrong choice of words).

It was great that Kristen Wiig’s dad was played by Phil Reeves, a character actor I always enjoy in Payne movies (he was the no-nonsense principal in Election). It was also cool to know that Waltz could get Cohiba cigars really cheap in his downsized world. It would almost be enough to get me to consider the procedure.

Unfortunately, it’s the script that needed to be downsized, and made into a shorter, better film. A film that didn’t bite off more than it could chew.

2 stars out of 5.