Rated R, 135 minutes
Odd yet touching, the new dramedy "Downsizing" from "Nebraska" director and writer Alexander Payne is about making people small and the huge issues associated with it. Unconventional for sure and Payne's narrative is a little too overly ambitious, particularly in its last act, but it features a charming, star-making performance from a newcomer who steals the shows.
When scientists discover how to shrink humans to five inches tall as a solution to overpopulation, Paul (Matt Damon) and his wife Audrey (Kristen Wiig) decide to abandon their stressed lives in order to get small and move to a new downsized community — a choice that triggers life-changing adventures, especially after he meets a Vietnamese activist named Ngoc Lon ("Inherent Vice's" Hong Chau, wonderful here).
In spite of a few narrative flaws, "Downsizing" strikes some different chords and is filled with some fun moments and quirky touches, not to mention some good performances. It's directed by Payne and co-written by Payne and Jim Taylor and one of Payne's most unconventional films that deals with the human experience on a much smaller level; what could've easily been a high concept film drowned in special effects and camera tricks is an absorbing, intelligent portrait of how being small may be a good thing.
Damon is solid as Paul, the guy who goes small and then runs into some issues, along the way, including his skittish wife (Wiig) who has a last-minute change of heart about the procedure. Oscar-winner Christoph Waltz has goofy fun as a hedonistic neighbor, and Payne throws in some funny cameos from the likes of Margo Martindale, Niecey Nash, Neil Patrick Harris and Laura Dern.
However, "Downsizing's" most larger-than-life performance is from newcomer Hong Chau, who comes in about an hour into the film and steals the show. She's funny, courageous and touching as the Vietnamese activist who brims with honesty and a big heart. She has two of the film's best scenes, one mid-film and the other late in the film, that'll leave you both crying and laughing at the same time.
The first two acts of "Downsizing" are terrific, but the longer it goes, Payne doesn't seem to know how to end it, and infuses with some overly ambitious ideas and silly nonsense about changing the environment and preserving life forms. It's best when it focuses on the joys or challenges of being small (watch what the nurse brings Paul as a snack after he first awakens as small).
That being said, "Downsizing" is about 20 minutes too long and may not be for everyone, but it's still unconventional fun and well-acted, especially from Chou, who should see some accolades for her star-making, scene-stealing part. In this case, it's perfectly fine to be small, even though it can be a big headache.
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