In a research facility in in Bergen, Norway Dr. Jorgen Asbjornsen (Rolf Lassgard) makes a breakthrough discovery and excited proclaims so to his colleague Dr. Andreas Jacobsen (Soren Pilmark).. Five years later, Andreas presents their finding at a conference in Istanbul, starting off by stating that the greatest threat to mankind’s survival is overpopulation and revealing their solution: a five-inch tall Jorgen. The crowd is in awe as Jorgen explains that downsizing oneself will be the solution to the world’s problems and reveals 35 other individuals who volunteered for the procedure. The entire world hears about this news including the mediocre Paul Safranek (Matt Damon) in Omaha. Ten years later, Paul is an occupational therapist at Omaha Steaks, still stuck living in his childhood home, and married to Audrey (Kristen Wiig). They yearn to live in a bigger McMansion, but their finances aren’t lining up with their wishes. While attending their high school reunion, Paul and Audrey see their old friends, Dave and Carol Johnson (Jason Sudeikis and Maribeth Monroe), who went through the downsizing procedure. Dave boasts about how downsizing has improved his life, as their money goes further and they live in a huge mansion. It’s enough of a sales pitch that Paul and Audrey drive to Leisureland community for the small in New Mexico to learn more. The seminars show them just how far their money will go if they were small, but the final thing to convince them is when their mortgage application is denied by the bank. They make the announcement to their friends and have a farewell celebration, which is interrupted by a drunk at the bar, annoyed that the smaller people who are spending less and contributing fewer taxes get equal voting rights. Despite the outburst, Paul and Audrey head to New Mexico to have the procedure, only when Paul wakes up 5-inches he gets a call from Audrey, who panicked and didn’t go through downsizing. At least he’s better off than a Vietnamese activist he hears about on TV, Ngoc Lan Tran (Hong Chau), who was downsized against her will and was attempted to be smuggled into the US in a TV box, only to be taken to the hospital and had her leg amputated. Anyway, a year later, Paul signs his divorce papers from Audrey and now lives in a small apartment below a partying neighbor Dusan Mirkovic (Christoph Waltz), and works at a callcenter for Land’s End. Paul eventually checks out one of Dusan’s parties, and wakes up the next morning to the cleaning crew which includes Ngoc. He feels bad to see that this is where Ngoc has wound up, but this chance encounter will have far more affect on his life than shrinking to five-inches did.
Downsizing is a frustrating movie with a great premise, but lacks a story that truly follows through with the promise of the premise. There is a great deal of world building down in the beginning, explaining how downsizing has affected the global economy, how rivaling tribes shrink their enemies, and other societal impacts, which shows they clearly thought this through. But when it comes to the story Paul’s journey could have been the same had he remained normal sized. There are far too many plotholes — like why do all the couples who downsize want to live in a huge 10 bedroom house when there’s only two of them? Why doesn’t Dave, who’s got plenty of money now that he’s small, offer to take the divorced and much poorer Paul in? Are the very poor downsized people not getting paid because it seems like they’d be able to climb out of poverty fairly easily? What doesn’t help is Matt Damon doesn’t know what to do with Paul and so he just reacts and follows everyone, lacking a POV of his own. He’s probably the worst person to center the story around, with Ngoc’s journey far more interesting (at least what we hear of it.) If anything, this movie is best to watch the first half and then write your own ending.