By Josh Tarpley
The Venice Film Festival has kicked off our 2017 awards season properly and Alexander Payne’s “Downsizing” is out of the gate first. The film, starring Matt Damon, Kristen Wiig and Christoph Waltz, looks to be the most fantastical project we have seen from the “Sideways” filmmaker. “Downsizing” follows a family as they adopt a promising new lifestyle, save money and the planet by shrinking and living in a smaller world.
Click beyond the jump to see the teaser trailer and first reactions to “Downsizing.”
If you were to tell me that the director of “The Descendants” and “Nebraska” had lined up his next film, this is not what I would be expecting. The film was developed during Payne’s seven year hiatus in between “Sideways” and “The Descendants” and Payne has described it as “a large canvas, science-fiction social satire.”
Variety’s Owen Gleiberman praises Matt Damon’s lead performance as Paul,
“The most humane aspect of Alexander Payne’s movies is that he extends the hand of empathy to flawed heroes who are the most deeply ordinary of schlubs. In his greatest film, “Sideways” (2004), he and Paul Giamatti made that kind of character electrifying; in “Nebraska,” not so much. Matt Damon, in “Downsizing,” endows Paul with a passive sweet decency that makes him seem like a high-school dork all grown up (but essentially unchanged), and while Damon, as doughy as a Teddy bear, infuses the character with feeling, you may wish that Payne had given Paul a dimension or two beyond his lumpish decency and good nature — that he’d come with a few spiky quills. From the moment he gets to Leisure Land Estates, Paul is lost. (No one can even pronounce his last name.) “Downsizing” is the story of how he plugs back into his life — a journey of awakening enhanced by the film’s outsize comic curlicues.”
Jessica Kiang (The Playlist) gives the film an overall positive grade (B+), highlighting the production design,
“In fact, formally the most impressive aspect is how Phedon Papamichael‘s photography coupled with Stefania Cella‘s clever production design manage to evoke a slightly miniaturized, toytown-ish vibe even when there is nothing else in frame for scale. And not just in the train-set neatness of Leisureland’s mansions and manicured lawns; Ngoc Lam’s apartment block is similarly microcosmic, inventively imagined as a makeshift ghetto created inside an abandoned prefab worker’s hut just outside the bounds of the Leisureland’s sterile perfection. The idea that humanity might be given a chance to create a utopia, but just end up making a facsimile of our existing world’s injustices and inequalities is the more powerful for being more or less unstated.”
Collider’s Brian Formo describes how “Downsizing,” though dealing with a micro life, deals with macro issues. The film seems to be torn between large ideas of optimism while losing sight of some of the character beats,
“Payne has described the project as similar to Black Mirror, and though there are some situations that mirror those bleak technology fables, Downsizing is definitely a throwback to the style of 40s Hollywood films that aim to find hope in humanity. It’s very earnest. There are some darker undertones but its main heroes are innately good people and their journey helps them to continue to do good things for others….
“Though Downsizing has a lot of great observations and big ideas about the world that it’s creating and the economic and political ramifications of human beings who are always comparing themselves to others, the script sputters with character development. Ngoc Lan becomes the most engaging character in Downsizing, and Chau doesn’t allow the broken English to slip into an ugly caricature, instead she owns it and uses the corners of her performance (her tears, her humor) to build a full character who steals the movie from the average American male that Payne is focusing on. Not that Damon is bad; he’s just not very defined outside of being average but decent. And the less said about Christoph Waltz phoning in another Christoph Waltz wide-grin performance, the better.”
The film currently holds a 7.7/10 average rating on Rotten Tomatoes (With only six reviews from Venice being submitted), so it looks as though we have a crowd pleaser on our hands from the “About Schmidt” filmmaker. What do you all think? Are you looking forward to “Downsizing?” Do you think the film will be an awards player for Paramount? Let us know in the comments below!
You can follow Josh and hear more of his thoughts on the Oscars and Film on Twitter at @JoshTarpley7