Imagine the challenge a movie publicist must face when given the task of promoting a motion picture that preaches social orthodoxy, that presents a dystopic present-day condition as reality, and leaves the audience to depart the cinema depressed over the state of humankind. A truthful description of such a film is box office poison. A false image must be cultivated in the minds of prospective movie-goers. If it’s The Cider House Rules, you sell it as the inspiring story of a young doctor who devotes his life to care for underprivileged orphans. If it’s Downsizing, you film a trailer that depicts it as a light comedy about yuppies making the decision to shrink their bodies to 5 inches in order to enjoy a better life. Your task is to sell tickets; your responsibility has ended there. You don’t have to make the audience actually enjoy the movie. The publicity team including Kate Cavendish, Jill R. Fox, Lon Haber, and Lisa Shamata excelled in this task.
There are some very good performances among the players supporting Paul, Matt Damon’s profoundly uninteresting lead character, including Hong Chau as a Vietnamese housekeeper who becomes a large figure in Paul’s life, Christopher Waltz as a playboy neighbor, and Rolf Lassgård as a Norwegian scientist whose work led to the bio-shrinking process. Photography is wonderful in paces, particularly the fjords of Norway. Visual effects are both stunning and realistic, though at times the scale of “big people” vs “small people” are not entirely consistent from scene to scene. Industrial Light & Magic creates a stunning visual depiction of the Utopian city “small people” city of Leisureland. Writer and Director Alexander Payne builds several entertaining scenes during the initial 45 minutes of screen time as Paul’s decision to “go small” is agonizingly made and carried out.
It is in the scrip that Payne and Co-Writer Jim Taylor fail. Indeed, the only entertaining bits are long stretches without any dialogue at all. Starting with a thought-provoking premise, no conflict is introduced into the story for the first 45 minutes, at which time it is revealed that Paul’s wife Audrey (Kristen Wiig) reneged on her promise to join Paul in the “small” community. She disappears and is never seen again beyond an awkward sight-gag phone call involving one eyebrow. The entire wife character could have been omitted as surplus filler, and probably should have been. Neil Patrick Harris and Laura Dern are similarly wasted as a couple who present a sales pitch for the downsizing process as though it were a time-share. Jason Sudekis walks through as a downsized friend from Paul's high school years. We are asked to believe that the newly-constructed “small” Utopian society has been purposely built to include a shantytown to which all the “ethnics” (mostly Spanish-speaking) are exiled, just beyond an impenetrable wall, a poorly concealed statement on contemporary politics. By the end, this movie becomes a tale of the End of Days in which we are told it was already too late to save mankind from itself; there was never any hope and we just didn’t know it soon enough.
Moviegoers may be forgiven for not only disliking this movie, but also being for angry at having been duped into paying money to be shown something entirely different than was advertised. Those who believe that mankind should be punished and exterminated might enjoy this movie. All others should avoid it.