Starring Matt Damon. Rated PG
Alexander Payne, director and cowriter of Downsizing, will never be accused of thinking too small. From his late-’90s breakthroughs, with Election and Citizen Ruth, through more recent award-grabbers like The Descendants and Nebraska, he’s managed to locate the universal inside the peculiarly local. Here, he goes for even broader statements, based on places that don’t even exist. Yet.
The tale initially appears to be a zippy comedy of social manners with a sci-fi twist. It centres on meek proletarians Paul and Audrey Safranek (Matt Damon and Kristen Wiig), who consider selling their Omaha home (Nebraska again, but played by Ontario) when new technology makes it possible for them to shrink down to a fraction of their normal size and trade their assets for a home and goods commensurately smaller. The process itself ends with a satisfying ding, just like you get from a microwave!
Wiig disappears from the story early, and the tone darkens considerably when Paul gets to Leisureland, an Arizona bedroom community you could practically fit into an extra-large bedroom. His own high-rise apartment is nothing special, but our guy’s upstairs neighbour seems to lead a penthouse lifestyle. Easygoing Dusan (Christoph Waltz, grinning his way through it) seems to be very well-connected. Hell, any player who has Udo Kier at his parties is worth getting to know. The older fellow takes Paul under his wing, but the latter—who left his job as a workplace physiotherapist in Omaha—is more interested in one of Dusan’s cleaners.
Ngoc Lan Tran (cast standout Hong Chau) is a Vietnamese refugee who lost a foot while escaping political repression. Apparently, some places are shrinking people as punishment. In fact, Paul’s attentions, which are ultimately more romantic than paternalistic, lead him to discover that the little people have quickly replicated the class system of the big world he left behind.
As social commentary, the largely satisfying movie (which also has some nifty scenes shot in Norway) has a kinship with The Shape of Water, in that a story with outlines designed to appeal to children and young adolescents has sudden outbursts of isolated behaviour—in this case, to do with language—guaranteed to wipe the PG rating off of parents’ faces. The kid in me also wanted to see more FX interaction between the mini and the maxi, à la The Incredible Shrinking Man—the ’50s movie that alerted humans to the fact that their cats were definitely out to get them.