Downsizing: Star Matt Damon in Alexander Payne’s Ambitious Film

At a press conference on Wednesday for Downsizing, the film that opens the 2017 Venice Film Fest, director Alexander Payne said he had consulted with scientists about the human shrinkage aspect of the comedy, which combines sci-fi and social satire.

Matt Damon plays a man who agrees to have himself shrunk down in order to live luxuriously in a government resort where he meets a Vietnamese prison escapee played by Hong Chau. Kristen Wiig plays Damon’s wife in a role initially intended for Reese Witherspoon.

Likeable, Relatable Character

The star emphasized that “Downsizing” shows a “likeable character whose life is different from our own, but whom we can find common cause with.”

Perfect Little Puzzle

“Alexander and Jim Taylor are so meticulous when they write,” said Damon.  “When working with Payne, every shot that he’s making is going to be in the movie, and you can see how he’s going to fit it together like a perfect little puzzle, a Swiss watch.”

“Our job is so much easier with a director that’s so sure-handed,” he added, “because you always know where you are; you always know exactly what it is that you need to convey.”

Love Among the Ruins?

Humor in Heavy Issues
The actress said that what she loved most about working with Payne on “Downsizing” is how funny it is. “I hope the humor doesn’t get lost in the bigger story and the heavier issues,” she noted.
Production Designer Stefania Cella

The director praised the Italian production designer Stefania Cella, who works in Italy with Oscar winner Paolo Sorrentino (“Great Beauty”): “She’s a small woman with big hair and big ideas, and she gave me a very large visual canvas to work with: I learned a lot from her.”

Payne said that in the downsizing sequence, “which really allowed her to spread her wings,” the only direction he gave her “was that the downsizing chamber somehow should look like a big microwave oven.”

For the human shrinkage aspect, he consulted with scientists to learn what “would the physics be if you were really that small.  If you were that small the quality if your voice would change; how you walk would be different. You could survive a fall from a higher height. You could probably fly a little bit. But at a certain point we had to stop caring about that, because we cared so much about the story.”

Film’s Timeliness

According to producer and co-writer Jim Taylor, the film’s timeliness, dealing with climate change and the rights of refugees, was accidental. “We’ve been working on this for over 10 years, so a lot of things have sort of caught up with the movie in a way that we didn’t realize we were going to be living in exactly this world that we’re living today,” he explained.

Optimistic Film

Although the film’s plot has the apocalypse looming over its characters, Damon believes that ultimately the film is optimistic. “I really do believe that movies are the greatest tool for empathy that we have,” he explained. “I think it’s a beautiful and optimistic movie. There’s this sense that we’re all in this together. I feel that is a very hopeful message in a very divided world.”