Why "Downsizing" is the Most Bizarre Movie-Watching Experience I've Had in Years
If you frequent the movie theater, you've probably remember trailers for a 2017 film called Downsizing. From what you can gather in the trailer, the film was painted as a fantasy comedy (in the style of perhaps Bruce Almighty or Shallow Hal) where everyman Paul Sefranek (played by Matt Damon,) and his wife Audrey (played by Kristen Wiig) take part in the new titular technological advancement of downsizing, where they'll be shrunken down to a 5-inch version of themselves and live leisurely and luxurious lives at a fraction of its regular-world cost in a community full of "small people."
The trailer seems enjoyable enough and filled to the brim with likable celebrities from Christoph Waltz to Jason Sudeikis to Neil Patrick Harris, and is written and directed by Alexander Payne who directed the popular The Descendants and one of my go-to films, Election. So why did I all of a sudden go from hearing about it every other day to never hearing about it again?
I'm no film expert, but thanks to my recent international flight that only gave me a few movie options, I can now officially tell you why the world stopped talking about it in a split second. Let's just say after watching it, I now realize that even Paddington 2 would have been a better viewing choice. It was one of the most frustrating to watch films I have seen in a long time.
But first, brush up on your knowledge of the trailer that everyone was exposed to for a couple of weeks, and think about what you'd expect from its corresponding film.
Seems like a good ol' time doesn't it? I mean, that's why I chose to watch it on the plane. But here are the qualities of the movie that I never in a million years expected that made it an enormous confused mess.
SPOILER ALERT - But then again, who cares?
1. There were 0 jokes
I already knew something was wrong 15 minutes into the film, when I realized there were no jokes. The trailer made it seem as if it was going to be a true comedy with gags around every corner. But instead, every time it was trying to be funny, it reminded me of the way that Black Mirror is funny. How when a joke comes up, you kind of make a "hmm" sound to the person sitting next to you, acknowledging something humorous has sort of been brought up. But it just seemed like such stark contrast from the trailer that it took me aback. Little did I know that I'd be thrown for the true loop after the first half hour finished.
2. The entire trailer takes place in the first half hour
For the first half hour of the film, things go as expected. The film seems to focus on the benefits of downsizing, Paul's reasoning for going through with the procedure and his coping with the abandonment of his wife. Suddenly, I got confused...what next? They've already established every concept, revealed every celebrity cameo and showed every scene from this trailer. What's supposed to happen next? Then enter's Christoph Waltz's character, Dusan.
Dusan's character immediately changes the tone of the entire film. In fact, the moment his name is mentioned, you actually start to feel the movie get slower, more pretentious and duller. Which is odd because Waltz's character actually has a lot of energy to him and continues to talk about interesting concepts behind downsizing. But once he gets introduced, the movie decides it's no longer about the concept of shrinking down, or exploring the possibilities. You at that point realize that nothing about this movie is what it seems.
3. The offensive stereotypical Asian character
For a moment, Paul is watching television in the small people world of Leisureland, when he comes across a news station reporting that prisoners of Vietnam forced to downsize against their will have been smuggled to the US in a TV box, and all died but a lone activist, Ngoc Lan Tran who had her leg amputated upon arrival. Sound like any recent events in this country you've heard of?
At first, it doesn't seem like this incident is going anywhere, and like it's just social commentary about issues going on in other countries and the sad dangers of illegal immigration. But then you discover that Ngoc Lan Tran is your new leading lady for the rest of the film! And this movie is about to blow even harder than you ever imagined possible.
Now I know what you're thinking: "Sydney, as an Asian-American woman, why aren't you happy to see an Asian woman as a leading lady alongside a movie star like Matt Damon?" Believe me, I would be if the film and role had been respectable for the actress and the community.
Actress Hong Chau who plays Ngoc is a Vietnamese immigrant, who fleed the country with her parents to live in a refugee camp in Thailand, before she ended up coming to America to learn acting in Boston. And I can't wait to see what other roles she picked up in the future. The problem is, this was an offensive portrayal of a squawking, irritating, busy-body Asian woman who thinks she knows everything...and it's all done in the most over-the-top pidgin English I've ever heard in a film.
Check out a clip of her performance below. Her tone is like this the entire movie. And no, despite what the text over the video says, this is not the best scene ever.
I will give the movie props for properly identifying that accent as Vietnamese (as opposed to just labeling it Chinese or Asian,) making an Asian woman the female lead and having Matt Damon's character fall in love with her with time in a respectful manner. But it was so jarring to hear this voice and attitude coming out of a stereotypical Asian woman washing floors, stealing expired medicine and putting others to work constantly. It just left a bad taste in my mouth because it reminded me that there are still people who still believe those are pretty much the standard traits of an Asian woman. Think about it, would you ever see them portray an attractive white female lead in such an unattractive manner? I'm just saying...I'd like to see Hollywood try harder. But at least it wasn't Emma Stone with her eyes taped back to look wide.
I can't speak for every Asian person, I'm sure others feel different from me or would say any visibility is good visibility. But I think we deserve better and more than this.
4. It's a dirty trick to push an agenda
Right after Christoph Waltz's character makes his appearance and the tone shifts, you start to realize that the movie is more than just social commentary and that it's actually meant to push a political agenda. And no I'm not talking about anything having to do with the Asian and Hispanic immigrant poverty town in the film. That I actually liked because it combined two minorities who are still constantly migrating to the US (I think we often forget how many similarities those communities share, and it was nice to see Asian and Hispanic people interact in a movie for once.)
I'm talking about the dirty agenda of making the human race hate itself for what it's done to the planet. Are we as a species responsible for much of global warming, the extinction of other species and the polluted state of the earth? Absolutely. But this movie takes it one step further, acting like we as the human race's only chance of saving this planet is to off ourselves completely. I am not a fan of that type of thinking as it's always unrealistic and completely unhelpful to the cause. In the film, our protagonist learns from Dr. Jørgen Asbjørnsen - the scientist who invented the technology for downsizing - that the human race is doomed because we didn't all downsize soon enough. And now they're about to create a Noah's Arc type capsule of every species and select humans in a downsized state, for after everyone else has perished. Then comes the most ignorant quote of the whole movie from Dr. Asbjørnsen himself: "Not a very successful species, these Homo Sapiens, even with such great intelligence. Barely 200 thousand years. Alligator has survived 200 million years with a brain the size of a walnut." Wow, way to try to make things sound that simple and black and white just to prove a nihilistic point.
I really hate movies that try to get me to hate myself. I love when documentaries or people use platforms to tell us what's happening to the planet and keep us aware of what we can do to help, but I'm not interested in getting tricked into watching a movie with an interesting plot, just for it to pull a 180 and guilt me out for being alive.
5. "Downsizing" is irrelevant in the last half
If you're wondering who the hell these two people are, they're Dr. Asbjørnsen and his wife, and they hijack the last half of the movie. All hopes of getting to know Paul better are sort of thwarted when these two step back into the movie after the few minutes of screentime they required (and probably deserved) at the beginning when the technology was being developed. There are countless scenes of them talking about the state of the world and reuniting with their family members. And boy is it boring. It feels like the writers of this movie originally wanted to write a movie about this couple, but couldn't get funding without arbitrarily writing in the first decent half of this movie starring Matt Damon.
After Paul, Dusan and Ngoc meet Dr. Asbjørnsen, the concept of them being downsized almost goes out the window except for one gag where they drink from a truck-sized bottle of Absolut vodka. After the group gets together it's all about the state of the world, and is filmed normally without the Honey I Shrunk the Kids effects. What a waste.
6. The first half hour was legitimately enjoyable
Even after all that strangeness, I still think the most disappointing and odd thing about this film was the fact that the first 30 minutes that show what was in the trailer, was so creative and intriguing. It was a unique take on the shrinking down of people, it explained the technology and what could go wrong, took seriously its effect on humans and the environment, and was paced well with entertaining characters and dialogue. Even the segment where Niecy Nash does a downsizing consultation with Paul and Audrey is a lot of fun.
I so wish this movie had been an hour and 45 minutes of that. I think audiences would have really enjoyed it and that this movie wouldn't have lost $13.4 million at the box office.
Now mind you, this movie wasn't the most bizarre film I've seen in years per se. It was just the most bizarre viewing experience I've had in years. Because it makes you think one thing is happening, and then pulls out the rug from under you to reveal the most boring movie scenes you'll ever have the displeasure of viewing. Unless you like pretentious political agendas, being guilted out for ever being born, getting bombarded with cringey stereotypes and being pranked by a feature-length film, I'd give this one a huge skip.