Downsizing is a meandering satire of American consumerism

The burgeoning relationship between Paul (Matt Damon) and Ngoc Lan Tran (Hong Chau) is not interesting enough to sustain the social commentary.
The burgeoning relationship between Paul (Matt Damon) and Ngoc Lan Tran (Hong Chau) is not interesting enough to sustain the social commentary.PHOTO: UIP

REVIEW / COMEDY

DOWNSIZING (NC16)

135 minutes/Opens today

2.5 stars

The story: Paul (Matt Damon) and his wife, Audrey (Kristen Wiig), are an average couple, struggling to make ends meet. They learn of a procedure that shrinks the human body to an average of 12cm in height, allowing them to live in a utopian community where everyone enjoys luxuries for a fraction of the normal cost, while reducing the use of the Earth's resources. 

Film-maker Alexander Payne is known for making funny-sad movies about a certain kind of American person.

In the Oscar-winning Sideways (2004), The Descendants (2011) and Nebraska (2013), the main characters are constantly being told to grow up or get real; that their friends and family will no longer tolerate their idiosyncrasies.

The word "quixotic" comes up a lot to describe the protagonists and their silly quests, but their missions - crossing the country to cash a bogus sweepstakes ticket, finding the perfect bottle of wine - are victories for the little guy, a form of therapy much needed in a country dominated by capitalism and corporations.

In this soft-focus meandering satire of American consumerism, Payne takes aim again. But at who? Just when he puts his crosshairs on a juicy target, he shifts to something else entirely.

Paul (Damon) is a sweet, gentle guy from the Midwest who appears to have been manipulated by his wife and his friend, Dave (Jason Sudeikis), into "downsizing" and moving to a community where lower middle-class incomes suddenly buy an upper-tier life, filled with McMansions, golf and other comforts.

He encounters victories and setbacks on his journey, one which finally puts him in touch with Ngoc Lan Tran (Asian-American actress Hong Chau, doing her best with a thin script that reduces her to a Mother Teresa-like saint of the slums).

 

She is a migrant and domestic worker who shows him that all utopias are like ducks on a pond - they look beautiful on the surface but underneath, there is frantic activity.

Everything is a little on the nose and the burgeoning relationship between Paul and Tran is not interesting enough to sustain the social commentary. That is made worse when the story moves into an apocalyptic tangent in the third act.

Neither does it help that Tran's character is another form of the common male fantasy - the manic pixie dream girl, spiced up with a Vietnamese accent.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 11, 2018, with the headline 'Satire takes aim at consumerism, but fails to hit the mark'. Print Edition | Subscribe