One thing I’ve always found kind of troubling about Alexander Payne is his misanthropy. This is probably most plainly seen in Election, a movie that doesn’t have a single person in it who isn’t venal, self-centered & cartoonishly terrible, except for one – and he’s a ******* idiot. Over the years, he’s mellowed a bit, but even in a film as sympathetic to its main characters as Nebraska, he still peopled the supporting cast with monstrous cartoons. This isn’t always a bad thing, but I’ve always wanted to see Payne really embrace hope in humanity. Consider Downsizing a real Monkey’s Paw situation for me, because Payne absolutely embraces a message of hope, kindness, love & charity . . . and it’s probably his worst film. The film starts off with an intriguing premise, which it then essentially scraps; the vast majority of the plot doesn’t even hang on the downsizing premise. You’re to be forgiven if, when the butterflies show up near the end, you had actually forgotten everyone was tiny. When you make people tiny but then set them almost entirely in equally tiny environments, there’s something else that’s called; normalcy. The script is weird and poorly written with most of the characters never being more than the broadest of stereotypes. Even Christoph Waltz is left adrift and when a part is so badly written that Christoph Waltz can’t make it entertaining, you’re talking about a really, really badly written part. He’s trying though. At one point, he appears in a scene in which he is not even really in; he has no dialogue or interaction with anyone or any plot purpose, but there he is, leaning on a cabinet, completely frozen throughout the entire scene smiling like a lunatic. I mean, he’s giving it what he has. The one thing that I think does work here is Hong Chau’s performance; I really liked her a lot in Inherent Vice, another movie where she was given a kind of underwritten part but managed to do something really interesting with it. She does the same here and she’s the only character in the film that feels real, despite a lot of her performance being incredibly broad. Anyway, I never thought I’d hear myself say this, but I’m really hoping Payne’s sympathy here is a one-off. Bring back the misanthropy. 2 stars.
tl;dr – an interesting premise gets lost in a sloppy script and a cheesy, poorly executed message of love and togetherness; maybe Payne’s worst film, but Hong Chau is good. 2 stars.