I feel like a bad reporter for admitting this, but when I heard Alexander Payne — the director of movies like Election, About Schmidt, Sideways, Nebraska and The Descendants — was making a new film, I just assumed Gizmodo wouldn't cover it. I didn't even look into it. I knew I'd see it, probably love it, and it would probably be nominated for a bunch of awards. But I had no idea what it was actually about.
Matt Damon at CinemaCon 2017 to talk Downsizing. (Image: Alex J. Berliner/ABImages)
It turns out that I was very, very wrong. The film is actually a sci-fi flick called Downsizing, and it stars Matt Damon and Kristen Wiig as a couple who decide to shrink themselves. Downsizing. Literally.
I'll never make that mistake again, but in any case, Paramount played about 10 minutes from the film at CinemaCon, and here's what happened in the footage we saw.
It starts with a group of people sitting in a studio audience. They're all looking at what appears to be a kind of dollhouse. Out of the dollhouse walks a little person. Like, really little. About 15cm tall. It's a character played by Neil Patrick Harris and he's there to sell these people on the idea of downsizing: Shrinking down to a size where life is the same but everything is worth more.
His pitch goes like this: As a small person, you can have everything you ever dreamed. That's because everything you own or consume is so much smaller. Plus, you're saving the world from overpopulation and excessive waste problems. It's actually an environmental issue, he says. He shows off his mega-mansion, which is the aforementioned doll house, and it opens it up to reveal his wife, played by Laura Dern. She tells him about her day, that she went jewellery shopping. She bought a diamond bracelet, earrings and a necklace. "How much did that cost me?" he asks. "Eighty three dollars," she says. "Eighty three dollars!" he exclaims. "That's the cost of food for two months." Everyone laughs.
Damon and Wiig's characters were in the audience, and they then meet with a lady who explains to them how it works. She says that if they choose to move to LeisureLand — the name of the world where everyone is small — they'd be set for life. After all, they'd have $152,000 after selling all their assets and settling all debt. Now, to live off the rest of your life, that doesn't sound like a lot. But money goes so much further when you're small — it's more like $15.2 million.
So they do it. They're told the procedure will take about five hours, and in that time they have to be separated. They say their goodbyes and go off. We follow Damon as he goes to the men's facility, and it starts with a montage of men getting their heads shaved. Very Full Metal Jacket. But it goes beyond that. Eyebrows shaved. Legs shaved. Privates shaved. Everything. Next, they go to a huge pod of dentists to have anything unnatural taken out of their mouth. Then about 20 men are rolled into a huge secure room. They're knocked out, and once all the doctors are happy, they lock them in and turn the room on. This is when the actual downsizing happens.
Once it's done, nurses go in and scoop up the now mini-men in spatulas. They transfer them to another location where mini-doctors will now take care of them. There's a great shot of a regular sized doctor talking to mini-doctors, and it's just funny and weird.
Damon's character wakes up and the nurse welcomes him to LeisureLand. She says, "I bet you're hungry," and leaves the room. She then comes back with crackers that are literally the size of her entire body. To a normal person, this is just a cracker, but to a small person, it's massive. He's shocked and she reveals that she's joking. "People love that," she says and goes to get him a regular sized meal. And then the footage ended.
The dry humour of the scenes, coupled with the way the concept processes through your mind, really worked. Where the actual story or drama of the movie goes is anyone's guess. Obviously, this won't turn out well, otherwise it wouldn't be a movie. But the way the premise presents something so simple and smart, but potentially profound, is pure Alexander Payne.
Now that we know this is a sci-fi film, we'll be following Downsizing as we race towards its Christmas release.