Around 1900, progressive dreamers wrote a series of Utopian novels, sharing their vision of a perfect Socialist future.
One thing that they all had in common is communal living. In the perfect future, they assumed, people would live together in large apartment complexes.
Communal living is just rudimentary common sense. It saves lumber, brick, and steel. It saves electricity. It saves fuel because people are close to town and closer to work. It saves heating oil.
Somewhere in the 20th Century, this efficient communal ideal was tossed in the garbage and was replaced by the ideal that a respectable American has to live in a house.
Nothing, it seems, can shake the ideal of the single-family home.
It has been proven that home ownership primarily benefits big banks, oil companies, IKEA, and Home Depot. It doesn’t make the people who live inside the houses happier – just more indebted.
But check out any commercial during the playoff games this weekend. Whether they are selling Fabreze, Fritos, or Pharmaceuticals, the smiling Americans in the ads are all living in spacious single-family houses. It’s as if apartment dwellers or people who share their houses with renters are too poor or too uncivilized to even show on television.
“Downsizing” shows us a 21st Century Utopia where almost everyone can afford to buy a house in cash.
In writer/director Alexander Payne’s imaginative new world, people have the choice to undergo an irreversible procedure that reduces their size by approximately 99%.
Living a new life at 5 inches tall is extremely appealing to two very different types of people: environmentalists who want to leave a smaller carbon footprint. And hedonists who want to enjoy all the finer things in life (diamonds, drugs, and mansions) for a fraction of the price of regular-sized people.
Alexander Payne’s point is that people are eager to buy any product that makes them feel like they are saving the planet or keeping up with the Joneses. But they aren’t willing to do the one thing that will actually lead to environmental conservation and happiness: stop wanting more things.
If Payne had nailed this point home and given us a few laughs along the way, “Downsizing” would have been an American classic. But he takes the film in a very different direction. “Downsizing” is full of surprises, but each surprise takes the story further off course.
Matt Damon’s lead character is so boring and bland that you never care whether he finds himself.
Matt Damon was once a great movie star with a cool sense of humor. Now he seems more and more like the dense marionette caricature version of him from “Team America: World Police.” When Damon isn’t educating us about the difference between butt slapping and sexual assault (wow, thanks Matt!), he is making lousy movies. What was his last decent film? 2006’s “The Departed” maybe?
“Downsizing” is an over-long, unfocused bummer of a film. I haven’t felt this ripped off since that time that I foolishly bought a house.