THERE may well be a few of us slightly preoccupied with downsizing ourselves at the beginning of the year – but we may think twice having seen the new Matt Damon movie of the same name which falls somewhat short.
It starts on a promising funny footing. Damon is Paul Safranek, who once had dreams of being a surgeon. When his mum fell ill, he settled for occupational therapist in order to care for her and cures the repetitive strain injuries of meat packers in suburban Omaha as a day job. He is not getting much sleep as he number crunches in the basement in the early hours. He and wife Audrey (Kristen Wiig), who dreams of a house with a six-burner stove and sweeping staircase, are brassic. And people cannot even pronounce his name correctly. He feels small long before he opts for the irreversible procedure taking him to five inches tall.
Taking the ‘refer a friend’ credits are Dave and Carol, who rock up at the college reunion, raise thimbles of beer and G&T at their former classmates and grab mini megaphones to explain why their lives are so great.
They live in Leisureland (or Leeeszurland as the American goes), a bit like the model villages I would visit as a little ’un, covered with allotment netting to prevent the birds and insects picking off the teeny tiny inhabitants.
The Safraneks attend an excruciating sales pitch, which is one of the best scenes in the film, by a smug Neil Patrick Harris and diamond-dripping Laura Dern. Miniaturisation is big business, marketed as a luxury lifestyle where seemingly paltry assets rocket in value. The pair are sold, have a farewell party with their friends and family and make the final preparations.
Apparently, there are real-life ‘experts’ director Alexander Payne could go to consult on this cellular reduction technology, which we see in the film developed by Norwegian scientists to counter all the issues overpopulation means for our planet. That is why fillings are removed to stop heads exploding during the process #whoknew
Dentistry done, head and eyebrows shaved and a rubber plug inserted into an orifice followed by dials turned and levers lowered and small Paul wakes up, first checking all his extremities are in order. He then gets a frantic phone call from his very apologetic wife who could not go through with it.
What soon becomes clear is that Leeeszurland and other pint-sized communities popping up are just microcosms of the ills of the big world. Dave is still lying and cheating on Carol, an underclass is still being exploited and marginalised and bad dad dancing is absolutely unacceptable anywhere.
Maybe I was expecting Honey I Shrunk The Kids combined with Gulliver’s Travels and disappointment is born of expectation. I got lost half way through. We are dragged along in a painful attempt to explore the metaphor the writers are desperate to cling to – climate change, capitalism, consumption – and they squandered the comic potential of this decent idea.
Damon’s love interest is Ngoc (Hong Chau), a Vietnamese dissident downsized as a political punishment. I think she was conceived with tenderness, but she turned into a cartoon stereotype.
I busied myself with the usually-wonderful Christoph Waltz, who plays a Serbian wheeler dealer here. What is he doing in this film? There is a cool Polaroid picture of him on his penthouse wall. I then further distracted myself with the myriad continuity issues – his cigar burning/not burning, for example and the erroneous spelling of Leisureland on a celebration cake. It was a strategy as I wanted to get to the end, unlike some of the other patrons in the cinema – and there were only about a dozen of us.
I was not rewarded however for this act of stamina as we clunked our way to the strange Scandinavian finale. Only by being small can Paul learn to be the bigger man? Pllllleeeeeeease. To say it left me feeling short changed is an understatement.
Waltz would be dinner party guest I would not mind sitting next to, and as you already know, I’d really quite fancy Chris Packham on the other side. And we were spoilt this week as he is back on the telly box for Winterwatch and In Search of The Lost Girl, now available on the BBC iPlayer.
Twenty years ago, while filming a documentary in Sumatra, Packham took a photograph that has haunted him ever since. It was of a child, a member of the hunter-gatherer tribe the Orang Rimba who were living in perfect harmony with their rainforest environment.
He decided he wanted to return to Indonesia to see if he could find her, to see where she is now living, to see if deforestation has not robbed her of her magical habitat, to see if there may be hope for us all as a species.
Another moving, personal, important film from Packham. ‘Only a nitwit with Asperger’s could do that’, he quips as he stumbles across the exact same glade he met the group in 1998 by recognising the lie of the land.
There is tragic news and ugly truths on his journey and then under some blue tarpaulin, beneath some palm oil trees, the farming of which have decimated her beautiful forest…
Packham: An idealist? A romantic? Perhaps, but other approaches have got us into the mess we find ourselves so maybe we need another way. He gets to the crux of the bigger picture through his captivating small 6 x 4 print.