DVD Review: Downsizing

STUDIO: Paramount | DIRECTOR: Alexander Payne | CAST: Matt Damon, Kristen Wiig, Christoph Waltz, Rolf Lassgard
RELEASE DATE: March 20, 2018 | PRICE: DVD $17.96, Blu-ray/DVD Combo $19.96, 4K Ultra HD $24.99
BONUSES: featurettes (Blu-ray only)
SPECS: R | 139 min. | Genre | 2.39 :1 widescreen |Dolby Digital 5.1/DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie  | Audio  | Video  | Overall 

With an impressive back roster that includes Oscar nominees Election (1999), About Schmidt (2002), Sideways (2004), The Descendants (2011) and Nebraska (2013), writer-director Alexander Payne delivers a disappointing effort with Downsizing, an ambitious work that simply doesn’t click on all of the cinematic cylinders it strives for.

The drama-comedy’s sci-fi-centered premise, co-scripted by frequent Payne collaborator Jim Taylor, seems promising at first: Matt Damon (The Martian) and Kristen Wiig (mother!) are a married middle-class couple introduced to the new scientific reality of being made smaller. Once downsized to five inches tall, the couple can live like millionaires in a McMansion situated in an experimental Upper Middle Class community called Leisure Land Estates.

Damon signs up for the incredible shrinking man routine , but when Wiig wigs out, he is left on his own to explore his strange new world. Eventually, Damon is forced to live with two oddball European neighbors (Spectre’s Christoph Waltz and Brawl in Cell Block 99’s Udo Kier) and learn about the secrets of Leisure Land. He also befriends a Vietnamese political activist-turned-cleaning woman (Hong Chau, Big Little Lies) and meets the Norwegian scientist behind the miniaturizing technique (Rolf Lassgard, A Man Called Ove).

If all of this sounds like too much for one movie, you’re right. Downsizing is clearly presented as three different sections, the best one being the opening where the focus is on its comedic fantasy element and its Swiftian possibilities. As the film moves on, however, it raises philosophical questions about such heavy duty topics as status, economics, politics and the environment.

Payne should be applauded for tackling potentially hefty baggage in a unique, quasi-satirical way.  The problem, however, is that the heavy stuff weighs down the earlier, lighter and more likable nature of the film. And so the impact of such topics ultimately plays as ineffectual when the film gets around to them.

Not helping matters is its elongated running time (135 minutes) or Damon’s bland Everyman, who doesn’t really change expression or seem to learn much from his outrageous experiences. Wiig is out of the picture fairly early, but Waltz, Kier and some surprising cameos enliven the proceedings.

Receiving some critical attention—and even year-end awards consideration– was Chau’s turn as the defiant house cleaner. The love-her-or-hate-her debate of her over-animated, oddly enunciated character will likely continue as the film—which did a disappointing yuletide theatrical take of $24 million on a reported $68 million budget—finds an increased audience of curiosity seekers in ancillary markets who missed it during its theatrical release.

Buy or Rent Downsizing

About Irv

Irv Slifkin has been reviewing movies since before he got kicked off of his high school radio station for panning The Towering Inferno in 1974. He has written the books VideoHound’s Groovy Movies: Far-Out Films of the Psychedelic Era and Filmadelphia: A Celebration of a City’s Movies, and has contributed film reportage and reviews to such outlets as Entertainment Weekly, The Hollywood Reporter, Video Business magazine and National Public Radio.