Jason Sudeikis

Downsizing

09/01/18

Downsizing is a high-concept film, its ‘what if’ premise explored with such fastidiousness that the undoubtedly outlandish seems utterly believable. We’re in the near future, and Norwegian scientist, Dr. Jorgen Asbjørnsen (Rolf Lassgård), has devised a means of shrinking organic matter (plants, animals, people). He envisages his discovery as a force for good, a way to reduce humanity’s impact on the environment, and to make space for the earth’s growing population. His prototype ‘tiny community’ is a success, and soon there is a growing demand for the safety and relative wealth downsizing seems to offer.

Eight years into the experiment, everyfolk Paul and Audrey Sefranik (Matt Damon and Kristen Wiig) are seduced by the idea. They’re tired and disappointed by the life they’re living: they’re not poor, but they’ve nothing extra; they’re exhausted and unfulfilled by their work (as an occupational therapist and a shoe-shop assistant respectively); their house is fine, but it’s a long way from the ideal homes that are peddled as the answer to their dreams. When their old friends, Dave and Carol (Jason Sudeikis and Maribeth Monroe), tell them about their new life in American tiny community, Leisureland, it proves hard to resist the lure of a world where their $160,000 assets will translate into $12,000,000 in real terms. They can have the mansion, the country club membership, the social life, the freedom. They can escape the mundanity of their existence and live the fantasy lifestyle of the super-rich. Of course their heads are turned.

But (spoiler alert!), their plans are thwarted when Audrey realises that she can’t go through with the irreversible procedure; she doesn’t want to leave her friends and family behind. But it’s too late for Paul, who’s already been shrunk, and – after the inevitable divorce – he finds himself adrift in Leisureland, poorer than ever and working in a call centre. Because, of course, Leisureland is a miniature version of the society in which it was conceived, with all the same inequities. It’s America in microcosm, and it needs an underclass to serve its rich.

And this, for me, is where the film really shows its chops. Because it’s not just a silly fantasy about tiny people – Mrs Pepperpot or The Borrowers for a grown-up audience. It’s a meticulously realised abstraction, with all implications scrupulously examined. We learn, for example, of dictators shrinking political dissidents, of prisoners shrunk against their will. We learn of tiny refugees, using the miniaturisation process to aid their illegal passage into other countries; of full-sized tax payers angry that the small people contribute less yet still get a vote; of entrepreneurs who seek to exploit, to become rich off the back of this noble experiment. It pulls no punches, lets no one off the hook, and yet it’s still marvellously entertaining – funny even – and a real delight to watch.

There’s been some criticism of the supposed ‘white saviour’ narrative, and the suggestion that Vietnamese character Ngoc  Lan Tran (Hong Chau) is a racist stereotype. But I really don’t see these things. Sure, Paul Safronik attempts to ‘save’ Ngoc, who is an amputee; he’s keen to reassert his sense of self by helping to improve her prosthetic foot. But she rejects his help, and – when she finally capitulates – he completely fails. She might seem like a victim (a political activist, shrunk by her government, the sole survivor of an illegal  immigration, her leg lost in the process, working as a cleaner for the rich people in Leisureland), but she’s not: she operates entirely on her own terms. She owns the cleaning business, we realise; she employs Paul, puts him to work; it’s she who rescues him, in fact. And I don’t know how she’s a stereotype, unless it’s her accent, which Hong Chau says she copied from people she knew as a child (“I grew up around Vietnamese refugees, around people who don’t speak English as a first language”). Any which way, it’s hard to see how a film where the female lead is Asian, disabled, strong and independent, can be considered retrograde.

In short (sorry), this is a fascinating piece of cinema, one that – I’m sure – will bear repeated watching. I find myself utterly captivated by it, and recommend it wholeheartedly to anyone who likes a film that makes them think.

5 stars

Susan Singfield

 

 

 

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Colossal

22/05/17

To say that Nacho Vigalondo’s Colossal is unusual would be something of an understatement; as an indie slacker-flick about a kooky American woman and, um, a rampaging monster in South Korea, it is a genre-defying delight, and certainly the most original film I’ve seen in a long while.

Anne Hathaway stars as kooky woman, Gloria, whose life is spiralling out of control. She’s lost her job and she’s drinking too much, and her boyfriend, Tim (Dan Stevens), is getting sick of her. Hathaway aces the role; she’s convincingly shambolic without being a complete wastrel. It’s easy to relate to Gloria.

When self-righteous Tim decides – self-righteously – that enough is enough, he kicks Gloria out of their New York apartment, and she returns to her childhood home. The house is empty, pending rental: her parents have moved away. And so she is alone, taking stock, and revisiting her past.

When she bumps into her old friend, Oscar (Jason Sudeikis), things start to look up. He offers her a job in his bar, and they hang out together after hours, drinking and catching up. Okay, so it’s a drifting, going-nowhere lifestyle choice, but it’s not so bad. They like each other. They’re having fun.

But Gloria’s chilled-out demeanour masks a growing anger deep inside. Old memories are resurfacing, and the booze can only blot them out for so long. When she sees news footage of a strange monster attacking Seoul, she’s appalled. And even more so when she realises that the monster is a part of her, unleashed upon the unwitting citizens of a city far away. She has to learn to control – rather than suppress – her rage, if she wants to stop its destructive manifestation.

I know, it sounds bonkers. And it is. It’s also bleakly funny and startlingly profound. Sudeikis’s performance as Oscar is beautifully nuanced, his sly abusive disposition gradually revealed. He’s the real monster: an angry, bitter robot of a man, used to controlling those around him. Gloria can only beat him by cutting him down to size – and there’s only one way she can do that. The monster is her twin, her Hyde, her Frankenstein. She has to own it, subvert it to her will.

Oh, look, I could go on for ages here. I found this whole film fascinating. A real gem. Go on, watch it.

4.3 stars

Susan Singfield