“He never struck me as the kind of guy who’d go get small. Wow!”
Alexander Payne’s social satire takes a fascinating concept — shrinking part of the human population to reduce environmental impact — but fails to explore it in any real depth as he prefers to follow his usual brand of mid-life crisis tale against that tantalising backdrop. There is a biting cynicism toward a brand of faux-environmentalism in which people only engage when it offers other benefits to their lifestyle or economic situation. In “downsized” communities, minimal wealth earned outside translates to luxury living which is the real draw for most residents. Though peppered with interesting ideas, Downsizing‘s ultimate message seems to be that we ought to care for the people around us now rather than engaging in high-minded attempts to save the species. For that to be the only real take-away feels like a wasted opportunity.
“We haven’t done anything. We haven’t broken any rules.”
Generally speaking I am not a fan of reductive descriptions like “a female take on Superbad” but in the case of Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut the comparison is apt, not only in its comedic end-of-high-school blowout premise but also in its prevailing themes of identity, social awkwardness, teenage desperation, and friendships on the cusp of change. Leads Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein are believable as studious best friends approaching high school graduation and questioning their decision to focus solely on academic success. After seeing her performance, it was little surprise to discover that Feldstein is Jonah Hill’s younger sister, with obvious similarities in their delivery. Although the dialogue lacks the realism of The Edge of Seventeen, the light and witty script keeps things moving at pace. Of particular note is the film’s ability to flesh out a number of its supporting cast beyond their initial one-note stereotypes, paralleling Molly’s realisation that she has done her classmates a disservice by underestimating them. I fear limited marketing may hold Booksmart back on theatrical release but I expect it to find cult success in home viewing.