Film Review: ‘Downsizing’ Is Stale but Hong Chau is Rich with Flavor

The innovation and creative mind of Alexander Payne have been far more particular than the cinematic world would like to admit.  While his style and writing have been embraced from an awards standpoint, winning Academy Awards for “Sideways” and “The Descendants,” Payne can often stifle his own imagination with misguided and forced comedic beats.  In the case of “Downsizing,” his newest and arguably one of his most original concepts, Payne spends an unruly amount of time world building and has a deeply rooted necessity for the audience to buy into character’s motivations.  The truth is, no matter how much time we spend with people, the evolution of the characters and story aren’t compelling enough to transcend its shotty material and poorly constructed product.

Downsizing,” tells the story of Paul Safranek (played by Matt Damon), a man who realizes he would have a better life if he were to shrink himself along with his wife Audrey (played by Kristen Wiig).  When Audrey backs out of the procedure, Paul discovers a new world in which being small is calling him to something bigger.

As the satire weaves in and out of Paul’s whiny and stodgy life, an heir of unlikability befalls the central character who is used to bridge the gap between the audience its world.  The tonal shifts drive you absolutely crazy and the sequence of events create an almost absurd take on climate change and the refugee crisis.  Payne and co-writer Jim Taylor should have probably taken the extra time to dabble in the film’s themes a while longer before putting the stamp of completion on it.

Damon, who often challenge himself and execute, falters on a deeper connection with his character’s motivations.  Unsure whether to fault the script or Damon but the Oscar-winning actor just seems to be phoning it in on every line delivered with no passion or direction.  Same goes for Christoph Waltz, the two-time Oscar-winner’s drunk man upstairs motif seems tired and restricted as he can’t wiggle his way down the tight corridor provided by the screenplay.

If there’s a bright light in the dark cesspool, Hong Chau rises to the occasion and breathes new life as the film becomes desperate for oxygen. He Ngoc Lan Tran will likely offend plenty but with a certainty of sincerity, Chau portrays a portrait of a woman who is both dutiful to humanity and ravaged by the past from which she has come.  Doing everything short of just grabbing the camera and gluing it to her face, Chau demands your attention, echoing all the early year buzz that she is a revelation.

Downsizing” shows a glimmer of hope at moments.  Payne, Taylor, and the entire team have a true lack of empathetic characters that cripple the poorly paced picture but there is something that piques your interests and curiosity.  Maybe next time.

“Downsizing” is distributed by Paramount Pictures and is currently now in theaters.

GRADE: (★★)

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Clayton Davis--prolific writer and autism awareness advocate of Puerto Rican and Black descent, known for his relentless passion, dedication, and unique aptitude. Over the course of a decade, he has been criticizing both film and television extensively. To date, he has been either featured or quoted in an array of prominent outlets, including but not limited to The New York Times, CNN.com, Variety, Deadline, Los Angeles Times, FOX 5, Bloomberg Television, AOL, Huffington Post, Bloomberg Radio, The Wrap, Slash Film, and the Hollywood Reporter. Growing up in the Bronx, Clayton’s avid interest in the movie world began the moment he first watched "Dead Poets Society” at just five years of age. While he struggled in English class all throughout grade school, he dived head first into writing, ultimately taking those insufficiencies and transforming them into ardent writings pertaining to all things film, television, and most importantly, the Academy Awards. In addition to crafting a collection of short stories that give a voice to films that haven’t made it to the silver screen, Clayton currently serves as the Founding Editor of AwardsCircuit.com. He also holds active voting membership at various esteemed organizations, such as the Broadcast Film Critics Association, Broadcast Television Journalists Association, African-American Film Critics Association, New York Film Critics Online, Black Reel Awards, and International Press Academy. Furthermore, Clayton obtained his B.A. degree in American Studies and Communications.