TIFF 2017: Alexander Payne's sci-fi comedy is beautiful and well-acted yet sprawling and disjointed
Big is no longer beautiful in Downsizing, a sprawling, disjointed mixture of science-fiction whimsy, mild-mannered comedy and gentle romance that finds Sideways director Alexander Payne venturing into territory that seems a more comfortable fit for a Wes Anderson or a Charlie Kaufman.
Initially, the film is a commentary on the sorry state of the planet and the feeling that the end is nigh. One solution comes via a pioneering institute in Norway that develops a successful process of human miniaturisation. Before long, there is a self-sustaining community of the small making a tiny impact on a polluted planet.
Years later, occupational therapist Paul Safranek (Matt Damon) and his wife Audrey (Kristen Wiig) have made the big decision to join America's number one micro community, Leisureland. Not only will they help save the planet but they can live at a fraction of the cost of traditional-sized human beings.
Payne mines modest laughs from the visual contrasts between old and new communities and the status of the small – do they deserve a full vote for instance? There is a laboured change of gears as Safranek becomes a more traditional Payne figure, cast adrift from his moorings, bewildered by the world around him, searching for an elusive happiness and finding the possibility of romance with Vietnamese activist Ngoc Lan Tran (Hong Chau).
Downsizing has been a longstanding passion project for Payne and there is an overabundance of ideas and notions crammed into the script. It looks beautiful, Damon is, as always, a solid, reassuring presence as the dogged, decent Paul and Chau delights as the saintly, public-spirited Ngoc Lan. Despite all of that and an eclectic cast that also includes Christoph Waltz and Udo Kier, it remains a sentimental, meandering tale in which all the little fleeting pleasures don't quite constitute a satisfying whole.
Screening as part of the Toronto International Film Festival 2017. General release from Fri 19 Jan.