PRO: A pleasure!
What if, in the future, we can combat overpopulation and live lavishly by getting shrunk down to five inches tall? The central conceit of this poignant comedy-drama is as ludicrous as it is unexpectedly fertile. Alexander Payne digs past obvious visual gags to uncover abundant food for thought. In our obsession with technology as a source of infinite short-term solutions, have we lost sight of empathy, decency and basic kindness? Can the fight against resource scarcity ultimately be sustained by a mentality of greed and the pursuit of material excess? Through the quirky, frequently hilarious odyssey of our pint-sized protagonists, the movie asks numerous urgent questions. Meanwhile Hong Chau radiates strength and soulfulness as a Vietnamese freedom fighter, outshining her A-list co-stars despite – or perhaps because of – a performance based on stilted racial stereotypes. After duds like The Descendants and Nebraska, this is vintage Payne. — ZS CON: Payneful
Payne reportedly began work on Downsizing over a decade ago, and the finished product has the distinct whiff of a long-in-gestation passion project. You can’t fault the writer-director for ambition, but once the novelty of the neat premise wears off, the film swiftly reveals itself as a grab bag of half-baked ideas, with an aggravatingly flippant tone that leaves one reluctant to engage with its occasional sojourns into sincerity. Payne seems driven predominantly by a desire to wrong-foot the viewer, which pays off spectacularly in one early plot pivot, but soon proves exasperating. The most head-scratching element is Chau’s turn as Ngoc Lan. In a sense she’s the heart and soul of the film, but the New Orleans-raised actress delivers her lines in thickly accented broken English, making her every utterance feel like a cheap joke. Adding insult to injury is Christoph Waltz trotting out his same old larger-than-life schtick as an ageing playboy. Payne’s weakest film to date, by a country mile. — PO’C
Downsizing I Directed by Alexander Payne (US 2017) with Matt Damon, Hong Chau. Starts January 18
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