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Soundtrack review: Downsizing (Rolfe Kent – 2017)

Film scores

Soundtrack review: Downsizing (Rolfe Kent – 2017)

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“Downsizing” is a 2017 American science fiction dramedy film directed by Alexander Payne and written by Payne and Jim Taylor. Downsizing imagines what might happen if, as a solution to over-population, Norwegian scientists discover how to shrink humans to 5 inches (13 cm) tall and propose a 200-year global transition from big to small, but with one catch: the procedure cannot be reversed. People soon realize how much further money goes in a miniaturized world, and with the promise of a better life, everyman Paul Safranek (Matt Damon) and wife Audrey (Kristen Wiig) decide to abandon their stressed lives in Omaha in order to become small and move to a new downsized community—a choice that triggers life-changing adventures. Rolfe Kent wrote the score.

The score opens with “A lab in Norway”, actually it opens with a loud female wailing motif that makes me think of movies like “Troy” and doesn’t fit with my idea of this story. I guess the composer wanted to express the elation of the breakthrough of the scientists. It all makes sense when I hear “A dock in Norway: the originals” because this very different sound deals with the mystique of the procedure.

My anticipations of the score are magically met in the main titles cue “The world is amazed” which is a delightful and optimistic piece of music that checks all the fairy tale boxes and the sound I would expect from a beautiful and dream like suburban community; there’s nothing but sun in this cue. After seeing the trailer and Matt Damon’s wonderfully naive and hopeful performance, I feel that the theme that Rolfe Kent wrote for him in “Paul’s Theme / Visiting Leisureland” couldn’t have been any better or more appropriate. This represents the character perfectly and hearing this theme makes me both care and chuckle. The playful woodwind motifs, the horn section, everything just works, as does the quiet and melodic theme for Ngoc, a more laid back character. Here the flute reigns and I must admit I am pleasantly surprised to find such distinct and meaningful themes in this score. I was expecting a textural comedic score but “Downsizing” has more depth than that.

I’ve listened to quite a few Rolfe Kent scores and this is the sound that he does best; it’s movies like these, dramedies that need playfulness and a touch of irony, light but with just the right emotional depth, sometimes in the vein that Carter Burwell writes for the Coen Brothers but with less darkness. For me it’s not always easy to connect with comedic scores but Rolfe Kent always finds a way to reel me in and each cue from “Downsizing” is charming in its own way; just listen to “The downsizing waltz” and I am sure you’ll want to explore more of this mood and enjoy more of this atmosphere.

“Downsizing” is the kind of score that it’s impossible not to love; it’s delightfully playful, positive and melodic. Whenever I drive in the car with my 3 year old daughter she has this fantasy where the plays hide and seek with the sun; they both hide from each other and Rolfe Kent’s score made me think of this lovely little game. I guarantee that this is a composition that will bring joy into your lives and it’s just perfect for Christmas.

Cue rating: 94 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 37 / 46

Album excellence: 79%

Highlights:
The World Is Amazed (Main Title Theme)
Paul’s Theme / Visiting Leisureland
Ngox’s Theme
Inching Toward the Downsizing Procedure
The Downsizing Waltz
Ngoc Guides Paul Upriver and to the Other Side of the Tracks
“Thank You Special Time”/ Paul Tends to Ngoc’s Needs
Exodus, Farewells, Lost Luggage and Reunions
The Aeroplane Home / The Rain

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Mihnea Manduteanu

I have been listening to film music for 25 years and writing about it since 2014. I've written over 1000 reviews and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I am also a member of IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association).

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