Downsizing ★★

With so many movies opening over the holidays, the latest piece of social satire from writer/director Alexander Payne and his co-writer Jim Taylor (Oscar winners for 2004’s Sideways) might be easily overlooked, especially since it hasn’t received the strong critical reception that greeted their earlier collaborations such as 1999’s Election, 2002’s About Schmidt and 2013’s Nebraska. Nevertheless, I appreciated the unexpected turns this whimsical, humanistic tale takes during its second half, even if many of my colleagues were turned off by the sharp narrative detour, which emphasizes drama over the first half’s humor. Matt Damon stars as Paul Safranek, an easygoing occupational therapist from Omaha who always smiles, even when correcting people’s constant mispronunciation of his name. When Paul and his wife Audrey (Saturday Night Live’s Kristen Wiig) are denied a mortgage for the house they’d like to buy, they discover that their limited budget will grow exponentially if they consent to shrinking themselves—physically, that is. Due to a breakthrough, irreversible process dubbed “downsizing,” the Safraneks will be reduced to 5 inches tall, where they’ll join one of the burgeoning communities catering to “smalls.” Within the domes of these miniature paradises, money goes a lot further, allowing the middle class to become rich. Boston University grad Hong Chau (2014’s Inherent Vice) is a standout as Ngoc Lan Tran, a handicapped Vietnamese dissident who opens Paul’s eyes to life’s bigger issues; classism, Paul soon discovers, remains a problem no matter what your size. (At Assembly Row, Boston Common, Kendall Square, Fenway, and in the suburbs.) 

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