As we continue to harm this delicate planet we live on and upset the balance of nature, science is looking at ways it can help. From Norway comes one, small, option.
Downsizing attempts to take a satirical look at how humans may go about saving the planet. Director and co-writer Alexander Payne (About Schmidt, Sideways), and co-writer Jim Taylor (About Schmidt, Sideways), have lofty ambitions, figuratively speaking, for Downsizing and its message.
At two-hours and 15 minutes, they have given themselves plenty of time to say what they want to say; to put the over population of our planet front and centre to a general audience of millions.
The problem however, is that the pair seem to have been conflicted whilst writing Downsizing. On the one hand, it attempts to address, indirectly and subtly, the fact that humans are damaging the planet, the ice is melting, there’s too many of us.
On the other hand, they want to make something that’s entertaining, something that will make you laugh and smile and say, “hey look, it’s a mini Matt Damon”. This isn’t an Inconvenient Truth, and that leaves you wondering what it could have been, and what it is.
At the beginning we see scientist Dr. Jorgen Asbjorsen, Rolf Lassgard (A Man Called Ove, The Hunters), create the Downsizing process. He’s doing it for all the right reasons. He trials it in his home country of Norway with some volunteers and over four years, the non-recyclable waste that’s produced is less than half a bin-bag.
The original Norwegian settlement is more like a hippy commune you would see now; modest housing, horses and carts, people with dreadlocks banging drums, that sort of thing.
Up to now the film is on course with its grand message, however, it begins to lose focus when we skip forward a few years and then a few more years into the future and Downsizing is worldwide.
When the rest of the world gets their hands on the technology the ‘saving the planet’ becomes secondary. Some parts of the world use Downsizing as a punishment, whilst others use it as an attempt to smuggle people into other countries. America (probably the West in general) takes the opportunity to make people rich.
Enter Matt Damon (Suburbicon, The Great Wall), a kind-hearted, though slightly gullible, occupational therapist who, together with his wife Kristen Wiig (Mother!, The Martian) is struggling to make ends meet in the big world.
A chance encounter at a school reunion puts them onto Downsizing where they learn they could live like millionaires, all whilst helping protect the planet. Their modest savings, after selling everything they own, translates to millions of dollars in the small world and lets them live in a huge mansion.
Things look good, except Wiig gets cold feet during the ‘hair shaving process’, leaving Damon five inches tall after the irreversible Downsizing process, alone and without the riches he thought he’d have.
He attempts to get his life back on track and whilst at a party at his bootlegging neighbour’s flat, Christoph Waltz (Spectre, Django Unchained), he meets Hong Chau (Inherent Vice, Treme (TV)).
Chau is from Vietnam and was Downsized and stuck in a TV box as a punishment for arranging protests. She survived the journey to America, though she was the only one and had to lose part of her leg.
When Chau enters the frame the film kicks back into gear, not with its message of saving the planet, but with a new one of helping people. Chau is brilliant in this role as she bosses Damon, and anyone else, around with her broken English and matter of fact view on things.
Damon wants to help her with her prosthetic leg and Chau takes him to her place. It’s here where Damon realises that the small world has a lot of the problems the big world does, particularly when it comes to the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’.
Chau lives outside of the ‘paradise’ that Damon and his fellow rich, mostly white, people live. Despite her obvious hardship though, she thrives on helping those around her. She brings leftovers from the rich houses she cleans for and makes the last days of her house-friend, dying of cancer, as happy as she can.
The movie then shifts focus again as we head out to the original settlement in Norway and see that they have a plan to save the human race from the ice melting, well, save those humans who live in that settlement at least. And we’re back on the saving the planet vibe again.
Chau, once again, comes to the rescue, bringing the laughs and some poignant moments, to bring us back to entertainment once more.
It’s this muddling of messages that means Downsizing doesn’t ever really get to say what it wants to say. It doesn’t hit hard enough or go big enough on any of the messages it tries to get across.
Whilst the entertainment aspects are fun, Chau in particular is an absolute star, you are left wishing they would have just made up their mind and gone for a big hitting message, be that eco or otherwise, or gone for the entertainment.
Instead they attempt both and whilst the film is fun, the effects outstanding and we’re introduced to a star in the making in Chau, there’s no escaping the feeling it hasn’t hit the mark it set out to.