“Downsizing” Lacks Alexander Payne’s Usually Nuanced Humanity

Payne has always been a very subtle and emotive director who airs on the side of intellectualism. People in his films are real, fragile, honest and credible. Downsizing however seems to find him lacking a fundamental sense of humanity towards his subject matter.

From the head of Alexander Payne comes a satirical sideswipe at overpopulation. However what is immediately evident is how little happens beyond those ground breaking FX shots. Matt Damon and Kirsten Wiig are likeable enough as husband and wife trying to upsize, but their route to downsizing is so manipulated, plot driven and devoid of drama it’s ridiculous. Aside from anything else that is the chief problem with this big budget social comment piece.

 

It has a huge agenda to encapsulate and wastes no time in spoon feeding, bible bashing and full on pulpit preaching from the outset. Payne is so caught up in trying to get across his opinion on screen that story, motivation and drama are forced to take a back seat. These global concerns which clearly sparked the light which drives the writing are delivered like a big budget infomercial. Prejudice towards those downsizing, illegal smuggling of immigrants into the country, or the adverse affect of miniaturisation is never really addressed dramatically.

Payne has always been a very subtle and emotive director who airs on the side of intellectualism. People in his films are real, fragile, honest and credible. All you need to do is look at George Clooney in The Descendants to understand where Payne is coming from and what he brings with him. Downsizing however seems to find him lacking a fundamental sense of humanity towards his subject matter. It is almost like the issues themselves have overwhelmed his consistently nuanced approach. Christopher Waltz is serviceable enough but he is reduced to both caricature and surrogate mouthpiece extolling, admonishing or satirising the topics dependent on need.

 

My feeling throughout Downsizing is that there was a great movie fighting to get out. So many different directions it could be taken in yet Payne seems content with visual metaphor rather than satirical sub-text by way of character development. Damon also feels two-dimensional while Wiig disappears all too quickly, leaving a large hole which gets filled unsuccessfully by an unrealistic love interest. Payne has written and directed better films; Downsizing feels like a missed opportunity. An opportunity bypassed in favour of expensive FX shots filled with miniaturised mansions and zero human interest.