Writer Director Alexander Payne (Sideways, The Descendants) returns with the 2017 satire Downsizing.
In response to the increasing threat of extinction that humans face due to their own overpopulation, scientists in Norway have invented a process by which humans can be reduced to approximately 5 inches tall. Through this process of downsizing, humans can drastically reduce their impact on the Earth and its limited resources.
Now a fully commercial industry, the process of downsizing has allowed towns to spring up all over the US – one example being Leisure Land. Alongside the environmental impact however, the other benefit of ‘going small’ is that the lifestyle afforded to the inhabitants is greatly increased with $1 equating to $1000. People can live in huge mansions and enjoy relaxed early retirements with the money that they take from an average lifestyle in the normal world.
Attracted by this proposition are Paul (Matt Damon) and Audrey Safranek (Kristen Wiig) who are struggling to make ends meet, yet hope for a much larger home and more comfortable lifestyle. After Paul goes through the process, but Audrey decides against it, he finds his life taking a number of unexpected turns as he tries to find his place in the world.
Along with Damon, supporting roles include Christoph Waltz as Safranek’s new neighbour and Hong Chau as Ngoc Lan Tran as a Vietnamese activist, the latter being the standout performance of the film.
As the film takes us through the initial offering of ‘downsizing’ it becomes clear that for all of the environmental benefits that the idea offers, the real selling point to those going through it is about cheaper possessions and an easier route to living the lifestyle of the rich and famous. Payne combines this view on society, with context on the environment, inequality and stereotyping.
In what is a quirky and novel idea, Payne works to create a story that challenges what we are looking for in life. It’s not subtle in its message, nor perfect in its delivery (it feels long, and also plays for some laughs that feel uncalled for) but its a really enjoyable, and thought provoking tale.