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Film Of The Week Small isn't necessarily the beautiful solution

MARIA DUARTE remains unconvinced by a sci-fi satire positing miniaturisation as the answer to global overpopulation

Downsizing (15)
Directed by Alexander Payne

DESPITE brimming with big ideas and a fascinating premise providing a small-size solution to the world's overpopulation problem, sadly this social satire can't escape its many shortcomings.

It starts with Norwegian scientists discovering how to successfully shrink human beings to five inches tall and thus devise a radical solution to global overcrowding.

It then follows occupational therapist Paul Safranek (Matt Damon) from Omaha who, barely making ends meet on his meagre salary, decides to give himself and his wife Audrey (Kristen Wiig) the life they had always dreamt of by convincing her to downsize.

They're informed that in the small-sized world their money goes so much further and will buy them a life of wealth and splendour, but how this is possible is never fully explained.

Following a surprising denouement, Safranek finds himself shrunk and alone in a downsized flat. He soon meets his flamboyant neighbour and party animal Dusan Mirkovic (Christoph Waltz, whose sole function seems to act as a plot device) who shows him the ropes.

The first half of the film is absolutely gripping, particularly the miniaturisation, but once inside the new small world the tone and the pace change radically and the film loses both plot and motivation.

We learn that not everyone can be shrunk, particularly those with pacemakers and pins or steel plates in their bodies. This begs the question that, if everyone can't be downsized, how can it be a viable solution to the overpopulation crisis?

And the new community, where class differentiation remains, contains its very own slum where the poor and the ill reside. Yet you have to show you are financially viable before you are allowed to be shrunk down, so how does that add up?

Director Alexander Payne, who co-wrote the screenplay with Jim Taylor, delivers an exciting and fast-paced sci-fi comedy drama in which he throws up all manner of ideas in the hope that some will stick — dictators having their enemies miniaturised to eliminate them is a fascinating one, but it's never fully explored.

It's part of the back story of Vietnamese refugee and amputee Ngoc Lan Tran (Hong Chau), who reluctantly teams up with Paul. This character seems more like a comedy turn and is played for laughs which stands out uncomfortably and inappropriately today.

Less would have been more in Downsizing which, despite its flaws, is an ingenious and captivating if, at times, head-scratching ride.


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