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Fantastic Fest: Don’t Get Short With ‘Downsizing’

Alexander Payne and Matt Damon remain small in this latest satirical scolding of our middle-class desires.
By  · Published on September 30th, 2017

Alexander Payne and Matt Damon remain small in this latest satirical scolding of our middle-class desires.

We’re all doomed. Look out your window. It’s obvious. Go big or go home? F that noise. For Matt Damon and the rest of the human race, our only hope resides in a revolutionary Norwegian process of Ant-Manification. As a species, we’ve been feasting on a hundred years worth of fast food in half the time, and our toxins have enveloped the earth flashing us forward to a justified extinction. The only solution is to decrease our footprint, to reduce an endless landfill of waste to no more than a Hefty garbage bag. Alexander Payne embraces the comedic absurdity of such a hopeful notion, but probably has a little too much fun with a sci-fi zinger that honestly leaves me Soylent Green queasy.

Damon’s Paul Safranek is disappearing into a suburban hell of his own making. He’s got the large automobile, the beautiful house, and the beautiful wife. He’s never more than a quick car ride from takeout, and he’s got his choice of the juiciest Omaha steaks thanks to the workplace hookup. He’s getting by. He should be chuffed. But he was promised more than survival. The American dream that’s pranced in his head since birth glimmered with assurances of wealth and leisure. With too much stuff cramming his hallways and closets, the appeal of miniaturization is overwhelming.

Fifty bucks may get a normal sized person the tastiest of Cuban cigars, but when you’re small, fifty bucks will get you fifty tasty Cubans. Paul’s decision to drag his wife down is motivated by the thought of the McMansion that awaits them, and less about reducing the human garbage that’s currently rupturing the planet. Payne is certainly not subtle with his judgements. Class systems are inescapable, empathy should be the motivation of all, but we’re lucky if one knucklehead Damon can see the pain beyond his own B.S. Downsizing is an assault on our thoughtless treatment of mother Earth, but Payne may get a little lost in the oddity of the concept. The chuckles earned over microscopic bottles of Absolut Vodka are heftier than the societal take-down.

Still, the film is more often fun than not. When Christoph Waltz reveals himself as the hard-thumping neighbor upstairs we see a savage doofus preying on the suddenly wealthy. Waltz is a beast, the personification of a gnashing grin. That’s a bingo! He straddles the line between funny and fiendish, and succeeds in stealing the show from Matt Damon. That is until Udo Kier steps onto the dance floor and the film never recovers from his mad moves. Kier and Waltz are this dynamic duo of entrepreneurial sleaze, bleeding the small from their tall dollars. Kier’s lecherous sea captain is forgivable because he’s simply having too much fun being Udo. He’s basically the opposite end of the scum spectrum that we saw him as earlier this week in S. Craig Zahler’s Brawl on Cell Block 99. The two rapscallions keep the film watchable while Damon’s befuddled middle-classer struggles with his purpose.

Downsizing will not grip the conversation in the same manner that previous Payne films have, but it’s a perfectly acceptable entry in weirdo satire. Damon does his Damon thing. Paul Sefranek is a well-meaning suburbanite blinded by his modicum of success. The ‘more is not better’ heart of the film is a lesson most of us are fed in nursery rhymes but seemingly never root to our being. Another narrative chastising our global ignorance can only be a good thing, and snagging a few laughs from tiny furniture is always welcome.

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Brad Gullickson is a Weekly Columnist for Film School Rejects and Senior Curator for One Perfect Shot. When not rambling about movies here, he's rambling about comics as the co-host of Comic Book Couples Counseling. Hunt him down on Twitter: @MouthDork. (He/Him)