Film: "Downsizing"; Director: Alexander Payne
"Downsizing" is a strikingly intelligent concept film.
A romance and self-realisation tale wrapped in a sci-fi film that makes you aware of environmental issues is what definitely makes it unique fare. It is a social satire wrapped in a sci-fi movie that does not, for a second, look and feel like one.
Nevertheless, the film achieves a strange harmony from its assorted thematic ingredients and certainly produces unexpected and compelling surges of emotion at odd moments.
Dealing with the long-term viability of humanity's existence on this planet, the scientists at Edwardsen Institute in Norway hit upon a perfect process of shrinking human beings to the height of 5 inches. According to them, these shrunken people need much fewer resources and would thus be able to save our planet's resources.
Fifteen years after the invention which is an irreversible process, physiotherapist Paul Safranek (Matt Damon) and his wife Audrey, a struggling American couple unhappy with their financial status, during an alumni meet, get inspired by their classmates Dave and Carol Johnson, who have "downsized".
Believing that their lives would be enhanced if they were to shrink themselves and be transferred to the new world call Leisureland, Paul and Audrey decide to take the plunge.
Of course, complications ensue, including marital strife and Paul's discovery that all is not quite what is seems in his new environment.
Disappointed and dejected in Liesureland, Paul leads a staid life. So when Dusan (Christoph Waltz), his upstairs neighbour -- an opportunist who, along with his friend Kondrad (Udo Kier) makes money by importing miniaturized versions of Cigars and other such luxury items -- invites him to a house party, he reluctantly accepts the invitation.
After the party, Paul by chance meets a Vietnamese political activist named Ngoc Lan Tran (Hong Chau). Seeing her walk with a faulty prosthetic foot, he befriends her. He then gets fascinated with her struggle. How she then changes his entire life and worldview, forms the crux of the tale.
Despite its meandering pace and unassuming plot, the film at no specific point goes off the rails. The initial first hour definitely drags. Once the narrative picks up momentum in the second half, there is no looking back. You don't expect the film to take a dramatic turn but it really will have you thinking hard about the world we live in.
The third act, though predictable and incredibly ambitious, is eye-opening and lands the film where it strives to be.
On many accounts, this is an impressive film. Among them is the astounding performance by Hong Chau. She comes in at the halfway mark and just takes over completely, single-handedly elevating the film with her tragic, comic, caustic and lovable character Ngoc.
At no point do you laugh at her status, ethnicity or broken English. Yet you laugh because she is a force of nature that blows away the pretensions of others -- which she does with her straight yet unexpected nature and honest, cut-the-chase communication.
Matt Damon as the dull lead who goes on a journey of discovery is serviceable and the fault lies not with his performance. The problem is with the writing. Paul remains a bore from the beginning to the end.
Christoph Waltz does justice as the flamboyant Dusan. He is intriguing, but with a half-baked character, he is lost in the narrative.
From a technical standpoint, the film is almost flawless. The production and sound designs, costumes, visual effects, cinematography and editing are all immaculate.
Overall, "Downsizing" is a complex masterpiece which is convincing but not unfamiliar.
Cast: Matt Damon, Kristen Wiig, Christoph Waltz, Hong Chau, Udo Keir, Rolf Lassgard, Ingrjerd Egeberg, Rune Temte, Margareta Pettersson, Soren Pilmark, Joaquim De Almeida, Jason Sudeikis, James Van Der Beek, Neil Patrick Harris, Laura Dern, Niec Niecy Nash, Margo Martindale; Rating: ***1/2