Matt Damon and Jason Sudeikis talk trivialities in one of the film's most playful scenesPARAMOUNT PICTURES

Norway is the closest many have come to experiencing the numinosum. Drifting down the fjords, the airs of Grieg throbbing in one’s ear – everything suddenly seems small. We take note of minute details, the overwhelming prevalence of the world’s divine teleology almost onanistic. Our human egoism starts to fade, and we at last become one with the nature that surrounds us. A powerful, almost poetic idea, is it not? Alexander Payne certainly seems to think so.

“In another pair of hands, this might have made for comedy gold”

At the climax of Downsizing, Hong Chau’s Ngoc Lan Tran touchingly shares this doctrine with Paul Safranek, the most Matt Damon-like character to date, who bizarrely grasps it after watching an old man eat his supper. The film is similarly convoluted, giving the impression that the magnificent Norwegian landscapes have been included for cinematographic value rather than as a necessary plot point. Indeed, why these characters end up there is entirely inconsequential, and is never satisfactorily explained.

That the film would be moving toward this denouement is likewise unforeseen. Downsizing opens with an uncomfortable act of animal cruelty that sets up the environmental themes that follow. And what an intriguing premise it is! Dr Jørgen Asbjørnsen delivers an address at just five inches tall – awestruck laughter ensues as we revel in the delights of the prospective small world. Payne seems to be taking us down a Charlie Kaufman-esque path of social reflection through the absurdly unimaginable, and there is seldom cause to hold back.

Trailer for DownsizingYOUTUBE

It is in the ‘big’ world that the concept thrives. Kristen Wiig is both charming and hilarious as Paul’s wife, Audrey, and her initial hesitation thankfully drags out the comic play between little and large. Jason Sudeikis pops up at a dinner event in miniature, allowing for sparkling Lilliputian interactions to ensue. Neil Patrick Harris gives us a tour of his house where Laura Dern bathes in $80 diamond jewellery, the middling sort living like “kings” in Leisureland. We are then treated to an exquisitely balletic sequence of the mirthful yet deftly beautiful downsizing process to the tune of Rolfe Kent’s breakout score – it seems that a masterpiece is beginning to form.


Mountain View

The Post review: 'uncomfortably Pyrrhic'

And then it stops. As soon as Damon awakes in the land of the small, Payne’s storyboards appear to have run as dry as a giant cracker. Wiig is written out of the picture, never to be seen again. Characters will come and go in this manner throughout, finally settling on a Vietnamese caretaker with a wooden leg, a sea captain, and Christoph Waltz doing a silly Russian accent. In another pair of hands, this might have made for comedy gold, but is here used to channel a contrived chain of controversies that rush by without conclusion. Out of the blue, the world is ending, and the band of barely acquainted misfits set sail for Norway, leaving everyone else behind in an auditorium of frustration.

There are times when Downsizing shines – Chau has a smattering of standout moments when she is not playing too heavily on the screenplay’s racial stereotypes. A scene where Paul has to sign a legal form in enormous handwriting, and a removal van delivering unshrunken wedding rings will undoubtedly break out a smile. But when the messages at its heart are so bunglingly handled, the whole point of the film trailing in its wake, the world stops feeling small after all