C h a z z W r i t e s . c o m

Write and publish with love and fury.

Downsizing: A dire warning for writers

I finally saw Downsizing, a (black?) (comedic?) sci-fi movie with Matt Damon on Netflix. Anyone who writes should see it. It’s a clinic in how a story can go terribly awry.

There are so many approaches to writing. I’m not usually so Judgy McJudgypants. Someone objected to my use of foreshadowing in one of my series, for instance. You know what? Hop on the bus, Gus. There must be fifty ways to leave your lover…um, I mean, there are lots of ways to write and they aren’t all for you. That said, Downsizing is really bad. 

(Warning: very mild spoilers follow.)

The movie is so bad it’s fascinating. It can’t decide what it is. Kristen Wiig is in it for a hot minute and you’ll soon miss her. I like Matt Damon in most any movie. Christoph Waltz is being Christoph Waltz, for God’s sake! That almost always works! The cinematography is pretty, the actors are able and the premise gets lots of points for originality. This is a watchable mess. However, you’ll soon understand why the film wasn’t a hit. The marketing couldn’t hit a target because the plot was so incoherent.

This movie falls down in the writing and directing departments. At first, the story fails because the plot takes too long to get going. The show starts 10 years before the action begins! They invent a science (and hey, look, I’m sympathetic. That’s hard. I just did that in my latest book.) Sadly, the plot has no destination once it’s finally on its way. This thing is all over the road. Is it a goofy marriage story? Sci-fi utopia? Sci-fi dystopia? Cli-fi? Apocalypse? A mid-life crisis? Is it about a person finally asserting their personhood and making some decisions, daring to be selfish…or unselfish? The director didn’t know, either. You’ll be left a little baffled.

(For a much better movie about a mid-life nebbish figuring out how to take control of his life, watch The Secret Life of Walter Mitty with Ben Stiller. Or the original with Danny Kaye, for that matter.)

When we’re talking novels, it’s often a good idea to “come in late.” In other words, you plop the reader into the action. No info dumps. Get the story up and moving and sift the needed detail and character development amid the action as needed. This is not always so. A common trope in the zombie genre: They don’t show you how the apocalypse begins. In The Walking Dead, Rick Grimes wakes up from a coma and BOOM! Zombies! Same with a movie I love, 28 Days Later. Swimming against that tide, I devoted the first book in the Plague of Days trilogy to the fall of civilization. It’s interesting to me to see how things come apart when societal norms and services break down. In AFTER Life, Inferno, my new zombie apocalypse, we start in media res and get right to the action.

Necessary ad: AFTER Life, Purgatory was just released. 

This post continues below.

AFTER LIFE COVER 2

In the end of Downsizing, the main character arrives at a decision. This is the confusing climax of the movie. You really don’t know what to root for. Did Matt Damon win or lose? You will not understand whether his decision is a brave choice or if he’s just being weak and caving again. (At least I wasn’t sure. They even make the mistake of undermining the global emergency. You won’t even be sure how serious the peril really is. What are the stakes? Who knows?)

Your parents can be a wonderful example or a serve as a terrible warning about what you don’t want to become. So it is with Downsizing. As a writer, you probably won’t like it but you could learn a lot from it. I did.


~ Robert Chazz Chute sometimes comes off as crotchety. He’s really Canada’s sweetheart. Sorry, eh? Check out his latest releases at AllThatChazz.com.

 

Filed under: Writers, writing, writing advice, , , , , , ,

One Response

  1. Really great advice (echos a lot of other things I’ve heard about the movie) on writing! I wonder if they don’t use editors on screenplays the same we novelists do… or if the director couldn’t sense it was working. The actors are all so experienced, but maybe they’re used to someone else making it all come together… we have been warned!

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