Though marketed as a comedy, Payne's latest is more social satire that misses more than it connects resulting in a rare misfire for the director. The initial premise is interesting as is some of the supporting casting but interest is lost along the way as the film becomes more tiresome in its pathos and mishandled 'romance'.
Aside from being consistently (offhandedly) funny and that odd (endearing) Alexander Payne kind of earnest, DOWNSIZING serves as a well-illustrated reminder that substantive change for the most part can only come w/ radical shifts in scale and perspective. Harsh reminder: there will never be a political economy from which inequality is subtracted. Loved her in INHERENT VICE, but Hong Chau is stupefyingly great here.
Of all the directors to take a top-tier concept and actually subvert it into something lesser than what even the allegedly lamest ideas suggests, Alexander Payne would've been the one I'd least expect. Some truly brilliant satirical ideas and "Pleasantville"-esque parallels is squandered for a treacly story of immigration and environmentalism that throws the premise off so gravely you forget the initial concept.
Great films that develop a sci-fi concept in intriguing comedy drama directions: Pleasantville, Stranger Than Fiction, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Truman Show, Groundhog Day, Being John Malkovich, Be Kind Rewind... This Payne misfire isn't his finest hour, much like the overrated Coen Brothers' flick Hail Caesar. At least those involved have a prior record which still holds true.
For a film that took almost a decade to get made, "Downsizing" doesn't seem to have a lot to say or offer. While Payne himself enjoys exploring this universe, we just get stuck with overlong, banal montages and many groan-inducing gags about smallness. The political aspects range from random debates that go nowhere to hammered-in messages about selflessness and anti-consumerism (even anti-capitalism, to an extent).
Here's what I got from this: in America life is a series of strange events--sometimes meaningful--but are eventually in the rearview & before you know it yr dealing with other shit & yr just gna feel confused by it all. Which is to say, I like that it's rambling & dull, & would find it weird if it had the sharp edge a lot of critics seem to want. Social critiques as peripheral loose ends piling up feels real to me.
I'm a huge fan of Alexander Payne as a filmmaker so I was really looking forward to see what he could do with such a great cast and intriguing premise. Unfortunately, after an interesting set up the film quickly loses whatever momentum it had. The film gets lost in its numerous subplots and feels really unfocused... Downsizing has a lot of great ideas and concepts, but the end result is tedious and rather preachy.