Downsizing is a film with the most brilliant premise. What if, to save the planet, we were all made tiny? What if we only took up a tiny amount of space and flew in tiny planes and produced tiny amounts of rubbish? And what if we could live in the sort of mansions that would cost millions if they were regular-sized? What if, what if, what if, what if… but most crucially: what if this film had run with the premise rather than throwing it away? Could it have avoided becoming just another dumb ‘white saviour’ movie? And this, alas, is the ‘what if’ that must preoccupy us today.
This is a film by Alexander Payne, otherwise known for Sideways and Nebraska and About Schmidt, so there may just be no explaining it. Guttingly, it does have a brilliant first act, and opens with the Norwegian scientists who have discovered ‘cellular miniaturisation’ and a way of making humans just five inches tall. They sell the idea on the environmental ticket and then we spool forwards a decade to find that it’s popular and there are now ‘downsized communities’, like Leisure Land where, according to a promotional talk, which features Laura Dern in a bubble bath, you can buy a diamond ring with matching necklace and matching earrings for…$83! The diamonds also being so tiny, you see. And you can afford a McMansion too! Go small to live large is the message.
Tempting, particularly for Paul (Matt Damon) and his wife Audrey (Kristen Wiig) who live a beige kind of life. He is an occupational therapist who wanted to be a surgeon but had to cut short his studies. She is not awarded a job, but does drag her husband to view properties they can’t afford, in the manner of all wives everywhere, one supposes, when they are not obsessing over diamonds.