The preview trailer of Matt Damon’s new movie, ‘Downsizing,’ is rather misleading. We are led to believe that it’s an oddball comedy or dramedy, which is supported by its inclusion of SNL alumni Kristen Wiig and Jason Sudeikis. What indie auteur Alexander Payne’s (‘Election,’ ‘Sideways,’ ‘The Descendants’) new film turned out to be is quite different, as it segues into headier and more serious themes such as (gasp!) environmentalism and the true meaning of happiness.
Matt Damon plays Paul Safranek, a middle-aged “average guy” and workplace therapist by profession who’s stuck in a bit of a financial rut, so he and his wife Audrey (Wiig) made the momentous and life-changing decision to “downsize” (an established medical procedure resulting from a Norwegian scientific breakthrough which reduces one’s physical size to roughly 5” tall) after seeing so many people living happily and comfortably as small people. When the time came, Audrey backed out at the last minute (not a spoiler if you’ve seen the trailer), leaving him on a proverbial limb and on his own. His life seemingly shattered and without purpose, Paul must now adapt to his new reality and find new meaning in his life “living small.”
At first, I was furious that ‘Downsizing’ turned my expectations on its head by transforming from a comedy to a “serious” polemic on conserving our environment (it’s no accident that the new and improved Paul has a smaller footprint) and being kind to those less fortunate. But as Paul’s journey of redemption and self-discovery unfolds, I find myself engrossed in his story and the people he crossed paths with, be it the Eastern European playboy played by Christoph Waltz or the Vietnamese dissident forced into downsizing played by Hong Chau in a bold and eye-opening performance. It ultimately won me over by daring to be different and playing with our expectations, something that’s all too rare in a Hollywood that prefers to play it safe.