Thursday, January 11, 2018

Movie with Abe: Downsizing

Directed by Alexander Payne
Released December 22, 2017

The most popular science fiction is set in a distant future that isn’t all that recognizable, often including aliens or at least other planets and characters who can hardly remember the Earth that we know. More ambitious and relevant stories set themselves in the near future or even an alternate present, when elements of what we know still exist yet are subject to corruption by some new technology or unexpected event that changes the course of humanity. Often, the robots turn evil or zombies take over, and it’s much rarer to see a lighthearted science fiction concept take itself seriously in a humorous context.

As our world becomes more populated, a team of scientists is thrilled to discover that their efforts to physically shrink people down to a miniscule fraction of their size have worked. Infinitely fewer resources are required to sustain life at this size, and this notion of “downsizing” becomes a popular trend. Occupational therapist Paul Safranek (Matt Damon) makes the move from Omaha to pint-sized luxury in the New Mexico-based Leisureland, where he recovers from the sudden change of heart that leads his wife Audrey (Kristen Wiig) to decide not to join him and his eyes are opened to the wonder of the world around him by the likes of a charismatic partyer (Christoph Waltz) and a determined activist (Hong Chau).

This film has been widely marketed as a comedy, and while it is certainly enjoyable and funny, there’s considerably more depth to it. The term used for this irreversible procedure, which involves the removal and then reinsertion of teeth, is a clever one, since it traditionally means that someone is being laid off from a job or choosing to move ahead with less space to more easily manage life and property. Here, it represents gaining so much more, since a small sum in the real world is a fortune when you become small. Naturally, things aren’t all rosy, as those against downsizing believe that small people shouldn’t have the same rights since, though they are reducing their carbon footprints tremendously, they are contributing much less to the societal economy. There’s a great deal of food for thought here, and this is a world likely worth revisiting.

Damon is an actor who plays all sorts of roles, and he’s a fun choice for this mild and relatively unmemorable protagonist who, faced with an unexpected fate, must adapt to a world that he doesn’t know. The film’s undeniable standout is Chau, who has been garnering numerous awards nominations for her portrayal of a Vietnamese dissident shrunken against her will by her government and shipped to Oregon in a TV box. From her first appearance, Chau is hilarious as her character, Ngoc Lan Tran, uproots everything Paul thinks he knows and forces him to become a better person since she couldn’t think of doing anything else. The film’s visual effects are passable and its environments dazzling. It seems to have flown under the radar after gaining initial buzz at festival premieres last year, but this is a memorable and moving experience that’s also an enjoyable ride.


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