'Downsizing' Early Buzz: Another Compassionate Comedy From Alexander Payne

Attendees at Venice Film Festival just saw the new Alexander Payne film: Downsizing. The director began working on the sci-fi dramedy, which is set in a future where people are being shrunk down to five inches to combat overpopulation, after Sideways. Payne and co-writer Jim Taylor's latest collaboration sounds like a deviation from their past work, but according to the first batch of reviews of Downsizing, it's not a huge departure. The special effects aside, Downsizing apparently has the sense of humor, compassion, and poignancy generally found in the director's films.

Below, check out the Downsizing early buzz.

Payne previously said his film "takes something inherently absurd and ridiculous, but tells it with utter earnestness." In Downsizing, the wonderfully ridiculous concept is people can live in a huge mansion and consume as much as they desire at five inches tall. Paul Safranek (Matt Damon), who sounds like a lot of Payne characters in that he's stuck at a crossroad, decides to take the plunge and gets shrunk – a process which can never be reversed.

The movie currently has a 92% on Rottentomatoes. Some of the reviews are mixed, with some taking issue with what Payne has described as an episodic structure, but most critics are fans. Some reviewers even write it's one of his more kind-hearted films. Two things about some of the following reviews:

1) Some share a lot of plot details, especially about the second half of the movie.

2) There's a lot of praise for Hong Chau, who was so great as Jade in Inherent Vice.

Variety, whose critic called it "a kind of live-action Pixar movie on acid":

"Downsizing" has a subtly structured arc of redemption, as well as a nifty metaphorical design. It says that our obsession with having a "better life" can reduce us, and that life will always be a stranger journey that the one we thought we were choosing. But the movie, in the end, is more amusing than exhilarating, and what should be its emotional payoff hinges too much (for my taste) on the director's apocalyptic vision of climate change.

The Guardian:

What a spry, nuanced, winningly digressive movie this is. No sooner I had it pegged as a jaunty black comedy than it starts folding in elements of dystopian sci-fi, or compassionate human drama. A less polished director might have become lost and confused along the film's lengthy running-time. But Payne's handling is perfect. He never puts a foot wrong, rustling up a picture that is as bright as a button and as sharp as a tack. Downsizing contains multitudes. Inside, it's a giant.

The Playlist:

In a way, Downsizing performs a sleight of hand similar to that of "The Truman Show" in that you come for the high-concept sci-fi, but stay for the characters. Which is not to say that the sci-fi elements are badly handled (though sometimes when tiny people and normal-sized people share the frame, the CG feels a little unconvincing). We wisely never see the actual shrinking process, just fun before-and-after details, and even then it quickly becomes clear that simple sight gags about scale and size differential are by no means the best of the film's humor or insight. "Honey I Shrunk the Kids" it ain't.

The Wrap:

The ensemble couldn't be better, from Damon in paunchy-dork mode (think "Contagion" rather than Jason Bourne) and a joyously sleazy Waltz to brief but memorable appearances by the likes of Margo Martindale, Jason Sudeikis, Udo Kier, Laura Dern, Niecy Nash, Kerri Kenney and Neil Patrick Harris. If there's a standout here, it's Chau, taking a character who could easily have been a saintly martyr and making her funny, bristly, moving and occasionally profane. As awards season kicks up, she should definitely be part of the conversation.

Independent UK:

Alexander Payne's ingenious new feature Downsizing, which opened the Venice Film Festival on Wednesday, is a little big film. It's a Tom Thumb-style yarn that plays for laughs even as it deals with such hefty matters as climate change, overpopulation and looming environmental catastrophe. It has the same caustic, deadpan humour found in the director's earlier features like Election and Sideways but there is also a portentousness here that you don't expect to find in his work. Many of its protagonists may be only a few inches tall but the film itself is on a far bigger scale than anything Payne has done before. For all his boldness and ingenuity, he sometimes struggles to reconcile the Swiftian satire with the sermonising.


"Downsizing" sizzles with comedic invention throughout its first half. Payne makes skillful use of his visuals budget, offering a number of wry compositions that mix big and small in the same frame, trotting out a number of winning cameos, and relying on Stefania Cella's expert production design to detail a world that feels both overly familiar and slightly off. The first act builds to a standout sequence, visually reminiscent of "THX 1138," that follows Paul as he undergoes the shrinking procedure, and that culminates with a sublime punchline that completely upends the story.


Downsizing is a film that is at its best when it's forward thinking, but it feels very sterile with its human interactions because the world has been built so large it has very little time to define the tiny people outside of very broad strokes. The characters are thusly very old-fashioned in idealist vs. hedonist and the tone never fully settles. (I'd rather continue on the conveyer belt of ideas and worlds rather than spend much time with most of the characters.) The mish-mash of Downsizing's world with its method of storytelling doesn't work entirely, but there are moments of fabulous satire. And sometimes, it is nice to step outside of bleak futures and be reminded that the future would look less bleak if there were more Pauls and Ngoc Lans in the world. And that's something we can all work on regardless of size.

Most of these critics found the shrinking effect and miniature world convincing. Payne's films aren't exactly beloved for their special effects, so I'm curious to see how he pulled off the 5-inch characters. I'm very excited to see a Payne film described as sweet and whimsical, though. It sounds like Downsizing has his same sense humor and familiar themes, but is a departure in some ways. We'll get a better look at the movie when the full-length trailer arrives on September 12.

Downsizing opens in theaters December 22, 2017.