The director of “The Descendants” and “Nebraska” specializes in small-scale portraits of Midwesterners. He chronicles their daily lives, peeling back the curtain to show, usually humorously, the quiet desperation that lies behind their stoic facade.
“Downsizing” is something different entirely. It’s funny, to be sure, but it’s also Payne’s first foray into science-fiction. Think of it as “Honey I Shrunk the Kids” with a deeper social message. Payne brought 10 minutes of footage from the film to CinemaCon on Tuesday, flanked by star Matt Damon. It was screened as part of Paramount Pictures’ annual presentation of its film slate to theater owners.
The Oscar-winning writer and director cut an incongruous figure — looking downright professorial in a sports coat and sweater. The dress code at the Las Vegas-based exhibition trade show is notably more lax.
The film finds Damon and Kristen Wiig playing a lower middle class couple who buy into a plan to shrink themselves to the size of a Saltine cracker. It’s all part of a radical new surgery cooked up by a Norwegian scientist (presumably played by Christoph Waltz) to conserve resources and make people live luxuriously on a budget. With their $150,000 in savings, Damon and Wiig are told they can become suburban barons, if only they undergo the radical procedure.
The footage walked viewers through the sales pitch, involving a five-inch-tall Neil Patrick Harris in huckster mode, selling rubes on the pleasures of living in a pint-sized McMansion. Laura Dern is part of the sell, wearing a set of pearls while sipping champagne in a bubble bath and prattling on about days spent playing tennis and getting massages.
From there, the footage took the crowd of theater owners and studios executives through the surgery itself. Viewers watch as Damon head, chest, and intimate areas are all shaved, and he gets “drained,” to put it euphemistically. The whole procedure takes place in a sterile white medical facility populated by chirpy nurses and tons of visual gags. The complexity of the special effects seems to suggest Payne is working on a much bigger campus with a budget to match.
Paramount is releasing “Downsizing” on Dec. 22, 2017. That puts it right in the heart of awards season, so Payne may want to dust off his tux.