LOS ANGELES, CA – Acclaimed Director and Screenwriter Alexander Payne has been known to portray the fabric of the American psychology in such films as Election, Citizen Ruth, and About Schmidt.
As a screenwriter he creates strong character driven films that earned him two Academy Awards for Best Adapted Screenplay for Sideways and The Descendants. His latest film, Downsizing, is a new cinematic adventure for Payne. With Downsizing, the director enters the realm of science fiction and for the first time the magic of special effects.
Paramount Pictures released the movie on December 22nd and Paramount Chairman Jim Gianopulos told TNH that the Greek-American Payne is a “world class writer-director who once again has brought his unique cinematic voice to an original and compelling story. His films are always great entertainment as well as brilliant insights into the human condition, and Downsizing is a perfect example.”
Payne has produced cinematic gems with modest budgets on his disposal but this time he has a lot more money to work with and an all star cast. Downsizing cinematographer Phedon Papamichaels told TNH “this is the first $80 million art film.” The premise of the film is a scientific breakthrough from Norway that allows humans to be miniaturized to five inches, thus decreasing the footprint of humans on earth and the waste they accumulate. The scenes where the humans travel in the bus with their miniaturized counterparts are amazing, but the special effects do not take away from the essence of the characters or the storyline.
This still remains a Payne movie and it features a strong central character with Oscar winner Matt Damon playing everyman Paul Safranek, an occupational therapist who still lives in his mother’s house even after he gets married. His wife, Audrey, played by Kristen Wiig, has a dream of a better home and a better life and both remain elusive. Paul and Audrey are intrigued but skeptical of the new concept of downsizing but their ambiguity is erased when Paul’s old high school classmate Dave Johnson(Jason Sudekis) and his wife show up at the high school reunion ecstatic that they are living in a dream suburban development called Leisureland. The development is not only pristine and well manicured but it is also extremely affordable even for our protagonists’ finances. Paul, faced with the financial constrains of his situation and knowing that Audrey’s desire for a dream home will only materialize in Leisureland, makes the decision to move forward with the procedure. Audrey agrees as well.
The transformation takes place in a sterile white-walled factory and downsized humans come out of an assembly line, a scene that brings out laughter and amazement. However, the transitions did not go according to plan and Paul finds himself in a brand new reality that he has to adjust to since the procedure is irreversible. Eventually, he finds himself befriending his upstairs noisy neighbors, two aging European playboys Joris and Dusan, played by Udo Kier and a charming Academy Award winner Christoph Waltz, who love the perks of their downsized lives. Through them, Paul meets a Vietnamese refugee named Ngoc, a dissident who was downsized against her will and arrived in America in a TV box. As a result she now has a prosthetic leg below the knee and works as a cleaning lady. Paul as an occupational therapist feels the need to ease Ngoc’s pain and slowly starts to develop feelings for her. Ngoc, not afraid to ask for what she wants in her distinct accent, is played powerfully by Hong Chau, whose real life story resembles the one of her character. Her strong performance has earned her nominations for Golden Globe and SAG awards.
When they visit the original colony in the idyllic fjords of Norway, they find out that downsizing came too late to save the planet and extinction is imminent. Paul has to make another decision, should he make the heroic choice to join the colony in the underground vault they have created in order for the human race to survive or follow his heart and return to Leisureland with Ngoc? His choice will be revealed on the screen but the film raises interesting questions about the planet’s sustainability as the world struggles to control the population explosion that has reached 7 billion people. What is the best solution to save the planet?
The movie’s premise is in the sphere of science fiction and the special effects are fantastic but the movie cannot be categorized neither as a science fiction or a special effects picture. At the end, the movie is about humanity. Damon in a recent interview said that the “it is a beautiful and optimistic movie. I feel that is a very hopeful message in a very divided world.” Downsizing opens nationwide on December 22nd.