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dir Alexander Payne
scr Alexander Payne, Jim Taylor
prd Jim Burke, Megan Ellison, Mark Johnson, Alexander Payne, Jim Taylor with Matt Damon, Kristen Wiig, Christoph Waltz, Hong Chau, Udo Kier, Rolf Lassgard, Ingjerd Egeberg, Jason Sudeikis, Kerri Kenney, Neil Patrick Harris, Laura Dern, Margo Martindale
release US 22.Dec.17, UK 24.Jan.18
17/US Paramount 2h15
Small world: Wiig and Damon
TORONTO FILM FEST
|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E|
Alexander Payne eschews his usual organic style of storytelling for something more pointed and constructed. The premise is ingeniously conceived and thought out down to the (ahem!) smallest details, and as the plot develops a variety of big issues make themselves known. This may provide a connection to present-day issues, but it makes the film begin to feel rather pushy. And the ideas themselves become stronger than the narrative.
When Norwegian scientist Jorgen (Lassgard) works out a way to shrink humans to about five inches tall, the world celebrates this solution to overpopulation, pollution and climate crises. A decade later, downsizing is a big business, and in Omaha, aimless occupational therapist Paul (Damon) and his wife Audrey (Wiig) see it as a chance to solve cashflow problems and start fresh. But Paul winds up alone in New Mexico's crime-free micro-paradise Leisureland, still adrift until he meets fast-talking, hard-partying neighbour Dusan (Waltz) and his feisty Vietnamese cleaning lady Ngoc Lan (Chou).
Payne keeps the film grounded in realism, adding subtle, seamless effects and clever production design. This idea of shrinking people to save resources and reduce waste is thoroughly developed, including Ngoc Lan's arrival as a refugee hiding in a TV box. Capitalists find witty ways to make money from tiny people, and there are added philosophical wrinkles like a cult with a doomsday plan. All of this provides resonance and food for thought.
It also overwhelms Paul's personal journey. Damon is solid as a guy unure what to do with his life, easy to identify with even if that makes for a wobbly protagonist. Into that vacuum strides Waltz, shamelessly scene-stealing in all the right ways. Chou is a spiky presence as the matter-of-fact ex-activist who's actually the story's hero. And there are several superb cameos and smaller roles that add pointed commentary and loose humour.
As the story continues, Payne and his cowriter Taylor shift the focus from the story to the issues. The film is still very watchable, but the preachier it gets the less likeable it is. These are important things that need saying: we must stop destroying the planet and take care of our environment, the marginalised and persecuted need more compassion, we need a society that lets people live rather than just stealing their cash at every opportunity. But these things needed to emerge between the lines, rather than on top of them.
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© 2017 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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