The Un-Credible Shrinking Man
Written by Brad Miner
Friday, January 19, 2018
Alexander Payne’s new film, Downsizing, is a humorless comedy about people who decide to make it big by becoming small – about five inches, more or less. Some Norwegians have invented a process by which people can be shrunk with no other side effects than the need for a whole new wardrobe. The conceit is that you can tell yourself you’re saving the planet by consuming less.
After all, the doll maker who tailors your new suits uses a lot less fabric. A nice illustration of the premise comes when a scientist reveals the first-ever miniaturized man to an audience agog, then displays a half-full trash bag, proudly proclaimed as the waste that the little fella and his three-dozen shrunken comrades have accumulated over four presumably full-sized years.
But the real reason most people go tiny is to become rich. It’s all about scale: your $100,000 estate is suddenly worth millions, because small stuff costs less than big stuff – and, as the saying goes, it’s all small stuff!
Our sad-sack hero is Paul Safranek (Matt Damon). He and the Mrs. (Kristen Wiig) decide to solve their financial problems by downsizing and moving to Lesiureland, a tiny city under a bubble in which all the insects have been killed. (Hey! I thought we were saving the planet.) Unfortunately for Paul, his wife panics, and he ends up in Leisureland mate-less, followed by a divorce that forces him out of the mansion they’d bought and into a high-rise condo, right below a neighbor (played by Christoph Waltz) who throws loud parties, at one of which Paul passes out, and awakens on the neighbor’s floor, just as a crew of tiny, poor (minority) women comes in to clean up.
One of these is a Vietnamese immigrant, Ngoc Lan Tran (Hong Chau), who takes over Paul’s life, cajoling him to help her help the poor in an area outside the bubble where she and others of the indigent small are living. One man’s utopia turns out to be another woman’s hell.
The question becomes: What’s actually being downsized here?