The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape
Send this page to Twitter!  

THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan



Downsizing goes so far off the rails that I came close to yelling Why are you doing this?! at the screen. Director Alexander Payne – whose previously exemplary body of work includes Election, Sideways, and The Descendants – has a brilliant satirical premise that he completely abandons about a third of the way through. You think you're seeing a certain type of movie, only to discover that you've been tricked and the picture is really about something far less interesting. This is the biggest cinematic disappointment of 2017.

Matt Damon plays Paul Sefranek, an occupational therapist working for the Omaha Streak Company. He and wife Audrey (Kristen Wiig) can never quite make ends meet. They discover a solution. “Downsizing” is a new procedure that shrinks people and allows them to live in miniature colonies. The advantage is that a meager amount of money in the large world translates to a fortune in the small one. Following a pep talk from pal Dave Johnson (Jason Sudekis), Paul and Audrey decide to “get small.” Then Audrey develops cold feet at the very last second, leaving Paul in the miniature world without her.

This part of Downsizing is terrific (although all the best jokes and lines are given away in the trailer). The film implies that it will be a social satire about the desperate desire to stay afloat in economically tough times, as well as a look at what happens to a marriage when the couple's goals are no longer in sync. Payne and co-writer Jim Taylor have a lot of fun showing how the downsizing procedure works, not the least of which is the sight of a naked Paul being scooped up with a spatula. The situation with Audrey, meanwhile, briefly looks as though it's going to lead to some darkly funny places.

Right at this point, Downsizing abruptly changes course, immediately beginning a descent from which it never recovers.

Paul meets two key figures when he's small. One is Dusan (Christoph Waltz), a hard-partying playboy committed to getting the maximum amount of hedonism from his miniature lifestyle. The other is Ngoc Lan Tran (Hong Chau), a Vietnamese refugee who tends to the ill and impoverished in the slums hidden outside the walls of Leisureland, the luxury village where Paul lives. Stunned to discover that Leisureland isn't entirely the utopia it was made out to be, he embarks on a spiritual journey that eventually leads to Norway, where he learns that an ecological disaster is about to strike.

Yes, the movie that starts off as a clever comedy about a couple using radical means to get ahead financially ends up devolving into a self-serious tale of one man awakening his consciousness and trying to make the world a better place. Rarely does one find a film that so thoroughly jettisons its own concept the way Downsizing does. By the final third, the fact that Paul is five inches tall becomes irrelevant. What was the point in even having the shrinking element in the first place if it was just going to be cast aside?

There really isn't much to recommend Downsizing after the first act. Paul's journey is both predictable and unconvincing, with none of the sharp humor that permeates the early scenes. Ngoc Lan comes perilously close to racial stereotype, with her “comically” broken English. The ecological element comes out of nowhere and bogs the whole movie down with sermonizing. Not to mention that it's immensely disappointing that we never get to see how the Paul/Audrey situation would have played out.

The thing that's so enraging about Downsizing is that when it sticks to the core premise, it's legitimately great. There are forty minutes of A+ movie here. Then the story you came to see is tossed in the garbage can and replaced with a different one. There's nothing wrong with a film evolving as it goes along. Betraying the audience's expectations by abandoning the very thing they came to see is a whole other matter.

( out of four)

Downsizing is rated R for language including sexual references, some graphic nudity and drug use. The running time is 2 hours and 15 minutes.

Buy a copy of my book, "Straight-Up Blatant: Musings From The Aisle Seat," on sale now at! Paperback and Kindle editions also available at!

Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.