Released 26th December (Australia)
Seen 31st December
Directed by Alexander Payne
Written by Alexander Payne & Jim Taylor
Produced by Paramount Pictures, Ad Hominem Enterprises, Annapurna Pictures
Starring Matt Damon, Christoph Waltz, Hong Chau & Udo Kier
In 1989, Rick Moranis starred in one of the more beloved family films of that era. It was called Honey I Shrunk The Kids and was about an inventor named Wayne Szalinski who invented a shrink ray and accidentally makes his and the neighbour’s children smaller than a fly. What followed was an epic adventure where the kids have to get from the garbage pile outside back to the house where, hopefully, they can be grown to human size again. That film had fun characters, interesting dialogue and some absolutely incredible visuals because Disney built sets that just looked like giant pieces of a garden or a bowl of cereal so that we would believe that these children were the size of fleas. Downsizing took the idea of someone being shrunk down to a comically small size and then does none of that, has boring characters, bland dialogue, and generic sets that might be dressed with a giant flower occasionally if the prop person remembered to get it set up.
The story (Such as it is) follows Paul Safranek, played by Matt Damon, a man who is only defined by the fact that everyone says his awful last name wrong and that is apparently a joke. He and his wife Audrey, played by Kristen Wiig, have some money troubles and they can’t afford a home of their own. One day they learn of a procedure (One that would, in reality, take DECADES to perfect. Here it leaps from mice to humans in a matter of months) that shrinks everyone to around 5 inches tall in hopes that by making everyone smaller and consume less they can save the planet… and also if you only can get 100K to your name, you can live like a millionaire. They think this is a great idea (Because they are very stupid people) and prepare to go along with it but Audrey chickens out. She is then never seen or spoken of again because what could’ve been a quirky comedy about a couple trying to adapt to this strange new situation instead chooses to be a film about Matt Damon being bland and boring for 130 minutes… oh yeah, this film is 2 hours long. We’ll get to that.
Visually the film is a goddamn trainwreck. I know comparing this to Honey I Shrunk The Kids is a cheap shot but if Disney in the late 80’s (Before the Disney Renaissance) were able to make a film that looked goddamn cool because they made a gigantic set that made the actors look like they were much smaller, then I feel that Paramount in the late 2010’s should be able to do something similar. Or, alternatively, they could do what they did and hire out apartments and furnish them with 2 oversized objects each but that’s it, nothing more. We’ve earned our $68 million dollar budget now, we made the head of a rose look big on an average size coffee table and hung a giant polaroid of young Christoph Waltz on the wall, we’ve done our job. Seriously, how is this hard? How is making this film visually interesting a hard task? I swear that for a solid 20 minutes of the film, I actually forgot that these characters were 5 inches high. If you walked in after the shrinking happens and just watch the film from there, you would be hard-pressed to notice anything that leaps out as “Oh these are tiny people in a human-sized world” which is literally the point of doing this kind of story. If you make a film about people being shrunk to a certain size or growing to a certain size, part of your job is to sell that idea visually. Or you could bore me with talk about how one dollar can buy a bunch of Cuban cigars, whatever, who cares.
The attempts at comedy in this film are bad, beyond bad. They couldn’t be bothered to write actual jokes with comedic setups and punchlines. No, they just have every character say ‘Fuck’ a bunch of times in a normal sentence and hope that get’s a laugh. I have no objection to the word Fuck, there’s a documentary about that word that is on my list of documentaries that I suggest you see, but there is a way to use them and it’s not as a substitute for the joke you forgot to write. I’m convinced that those words were put in the script to ensure an R rating in the states to make this movie seem edgy. Down in Australia? the movie’s an M rating, I could take an 8-year-old to see this and the 8-year-old can come up with better punchlines AND can use the word fuck in a more effective way than 90% of the cast.
Plotwise… no. I don’t know if they are trying to do a satire about class systems, about racism (Cos there’s an entire scene where someone argues that shrunken people shouldn’t have the right to vote, that’s a thing that happens), maybe it’s about environmentalism or about helping the little guy or love in an unlikely place, it could be literally any of those and so much more. It does none of them well, at all. They have some cool ideas but then they change them for different ones until they get bored and move onto something else, never mind resolving plot issues, Matt Damon has to have the worlds most boring acid trip damn-it. It doesn’t know if it want’s to be deep or shallow, so it decides to just suck instead. Bold move Cotton, let’s see how that works for them.
The part that upset me more than anything, more than the bland performances or the bad writing was the editing. A good editor would’ve had this thing down to 90 minutes easily. There are literally 2 characters who could’ve been removed from this movie and no major change would’ve happened. The shrinking montage could’ve been edited down severely, entire sequences go on for too long and no one seems to care. Oh and there’s a scene at the beginning where Paula from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend tells the couple about the process and the actress may as well have not turned up because they don’t bother showing her more than once, they just let her talk and show reaction shots of the couple… reaction shots that do not change whatsoever, they are stone-faced and it’s boring and uncomfortable and I know for a fact that at some point you had cutaways because I watched the trailer, I saw it.
I’m genuinely trying to think of just one redeeming factor here. Just one, anything. I can’t, I don’t like anything about this film. Hong Chau is getting a lot of praise and a Golden Globe nomination and… sorry, I didn’t like her character. She seems like a fine actress who was working with what she’d been given, she clearly worked hard on that accent because it’s nothing like her normal speaking voice (If the clips of her in interviews tell me anything) but sorry, calling her the best part of this movie is like calling a corn kernel the best part of a bowel movement, you might be technically right but there’s still a lot of shit to go through to get to that and once you get to it, it’s not worth it.
Just go rent all the Honey I Shrunk The Kids movies and watch those, they’re funnier and better made with a lot more interesting ideas than this steaming hunk of garbage. The only reason this is not going to be put on my worst list that I’m putting up tomorrow is that, somehow, I found 10 films that piss me off more. Consider this number 11 for that list.
(2 is me being stupidly generous because of a constant aspect ratio and an occasional attempt at a possible OK idea)