Not surprisingly, each one, whose respective narratives could be called confrontational, has been misunderstood by critics and audiences alike - with the latter taking to CinemaScore and Rotten Tomatoes to harumph.
Of the three, "Downsizing" is the most complicated and, by entension, alienating because Payne and his writing partner Jim Taylor have concocted not necessarily a two-act film but two movies - one light and airy and the other rather dark and sobering. And, from where I sit, each film (or part, if you prefer) represents one of the major political parties.
"Downsizing" is a red state/blue state movie.
The brighter first half deals with the notion of literal downsizing, wherein a person volunteers to be miniaturized, ostensibly as a way to produce less waste and thereby save the planet. But the real draw of downsizing is that one can acquire more for less and experience a more privileged life. Money goes further. A few thousand dollars in real life translates into millions in Leisureworld, one of the tracts with Barbie dream houses where the miniaturized are ensconced - or rather, more accurately, segregated.
There's no denying that Payne makes an abrupt left-hand turn with his narrative or that audiences expecting one kind of film have every right to be angered when they're lured into another, altogether different movie.
The heaviness of this part of "Downsizing" is lightened considerably by Hong Chau's remarkable, exhilarating performance as Tran - and by the comic relief provided by the ever-game Christoph Waltz as a displaced, downsized playboy, whose character's cynicism and resourcefulness complete Payne's less-than-flattering vision of America in its current state.
And Matt Damon takes his affable everyguy persona into a new realm as he telegraphs Paul's confusion and the realization that he's always been "small" but can now do something about it. He plays a simple man who is humbled into doing something that matters - something of consequence.
And it's humbling to witness this actor express so much so quietly - and with such little effort.
No, "Downsizing" is not the larky sitcom promised by its trailers, not a Disney-esque sitcom about the joys and riches of being only five-inches-tall. It's actually taller than that. (Forgive the shameless pun, but it was absolutely intended.) Its social consciousness is big and very progressive.
To sum it up, I liked it. Thanks, Paramount, for this terrific holiday gift.
That said, "Downsizing" joins a select group of titles about the miniaturized, as evidenced by this little album of stills:
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~The poster art for "Downsizing"
~Matt Damon and Kristen Wiig in a scene from the film
~Hong Chau and Damon in a scene from the film
~photography: George Kraychyk / Paramount 2017©
~Grant Williams and a feline predator in "The Incredible Shrinking Man"
~photography: Universal -International 1957©
~Lily Tomlin in "The Incredible Shrinking Woman"
~photography: Universal 1981©
~A scene from "Attack of the Puppet People"
~photography: MGM 1958©
~A lobby card from "The Devil Doll"
~photography: MGM 1936©