Downsizing has just about the best concept you’ll find in a film all year. In a bid to cut down on the environmental impact of humans, scientists find a way to shrink humans. And because everything is so tiny, normal mid-level workers can sell up, downsize, and live like millionaires. That’s the idea Paul (Matt Damon) and his wife Audrey (Kristen Wiig) have – but it doesn’t quite go to plan, as Paul realises that ‘downsizing’ has an ugly side.
The set-up is genius, and the first half an hour of the film is excellent – it’s funny, clever, and allows Matt Damon to do what he’s best at: play an endearing everyman. The film wrings every bit of surrealness from its concept, showing normal-sized nurses scooping newly shrunken people up with spatulas, and tacky product pitches delivered by teeny tiny celebrities. But if you’re hoping to see a tiny Matt Damon battling giant wildlife then you’re going to be disappointed – this isn’t that film.
Instead, he finds himself caught between two different sides of the downsized world – one, represented by Christoph Waltz’s decadent Dusan, of immense wealth and privilege, and one, represented by Hong Chau’s Ngoc, of abuse and poverty.
The problem the film soon runs into is that both of those worlds are more interesting than Matt Damon’s world. Really, the film’s main character should be either Dusan or Ngoc, both of whom have a more interesting backstory. The film also seriously missteps in its finale, shifting into either a critique of our dismissiveness towards environmental disasters, or a love story, depending on your interpretation. The film hints at a terrible corruption of the downsizing technology but never truly explores it. It works best as a series of fun vignettes about downsizing – all enjoyable, but not quite holding together. It’s as if the creators ran ahead with their great concept without really giving much thought to which was the best storyline to explore the concept with.