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‘Downsizing’

A first word: This movie is not like how it is advertised.

It looks like a comedy, but the comedic elements are really more of the dark variety.

You may have seen the trailer for this film and thought, “Oh, milk chocolate.” But what you get is dark chocolate, and dark chocolate is an acquired taste.

“Downsizing” comes from the mind of writer and director Alexander Payne.

Payne is also an acquired taste. His last movie was “Nebraska;” a movie about an aging, drunk of a father that drags his son from Montana to Nebraska to claim a huge cash prize.

Another of his movies is “About Schmidt,” which features Jack Nicholson as a retired man who is forced by his wife to sit down when he urinates and who makes a cross-country trip to his estranged daughter’s wedding to discover himself.

All of Payne’s movies have characters that have huge flaws in them that speak of a fallen humanity.

In “Downsizing,” we meet Paul Safranek (Matt Damon), an occupational therapist who learns of a new technique to shrink humans down to five inches in height.

This downsizing, as it were, is to aid in easing the carbon footprint of those who do it. But the way it is sold to people is that they can live like kings because the cost is so much cheaper if you are small.

Paul and his wife, Audrey (Kristen Wiig), go to what would be called a sales pitch meeting. They find out that their savings would be worth millions as downsized people. This leads them to sign up for the procedure.

There is one little problem: Paul goes through with it and Audrey does not.

The procedure is not reversible. As time passes, Paul ends up losing his money in the settlement that comes with his divorce from Audrey. He is not living the life he thought he would live.

In his new life, he meets Ngoc Lan Tran (Hong Chau), a cleaning woman in his neighbor’s apartment. She is a refugee who was downsized against her will and in the process of coming to the U.S. has lost her lower leg.

Paul worked with such people in his old job (after “downsizing” he sells shirts through Land’s End), and he attempts to help her by adjusting her prosthetic leg. This ruins the leg, and Paul has to help her do her work.

This gives him a chance to enter a new part of the downsizing community, where the poor are left outside the gates of the wondrous community of the rich.

There, people come to religion for hope and depend on people like Tran to get them through life. It is a life Paul never saw.

The crisis of the movie arrives when Paul goes to Norway, where the downsizing procedure began, and learns that humans are not too far from extinction.

He is offered a chance to go and be with those that will attempt to survive the coming apocalypse.

“Downsizing” is a flawed movie. There seems to be something missing in the narrative, but that does not mean the narrative is not powerful.

Paul is the modern-day everyman. He is not that bright and he seems to be on the journey of trying to find something more in life. Yet, everywhere he turns he finds nothing of what he thought he would.

He makes many bad decisions. Downsizing does not turn out to be what he thought it would be. But all through these bad decisions, broken plays if you will, Paul is being led to something.

The question is, “Will he have the wherewithal to follow through with where the journey is taking him?”

A word here about one of the actors.

Hong Chau is electric as Tran. The force of will she shows in the face of all the bad hands life dealt to her and how she continues to move on with a sense of purpose is wondrous.

She is clearly more stable than Paul, and Chau makes great use of the character to give a memorable performance.

Michael Parnell is pastor of Temple Baptist Church in Raleigh, North Carolina. He is married and has two boys. His love is for movies, and he can be found in a theater most Fridays.

MPAA Rating: R for language including sexual references, some graphic nudity and drug use.

Director: Alexander Payne

Writers: Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor

Cast: Matt Damon (Paul Safranek), Hong Chau (Ngoc Lan Tran), Kristen Wiig (Audrey Safranek), Christoph Waltz (Dusan Mirkovic).

The movie’s website is here.