Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Live! From the 74 Venice International Film Festival! A Star is Born: Hong Chau in DOWNSIZING

Hong Chau in Downsizing
(Venice, Italy) Kudos to Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor for writing a script with a great role for a woman -- and a Vietnamese dissident with an amputated leg, no less. Hong Chau will certainly be nominated when award season rolls around for her role as Ngoc Lan, a house cleaner who captures Matt Damon's heart after he shrinks down and moves into Leisureland, New Mexico, the ultimate suburbia for small people.

Searching for a compassionate solution to overpopulation, Norwegian scientists discover a method to shrink human beings down to five inches. The perk for the planet is that an entire community produces a single ordinary bag of trash in a year. But the real appeal for most of those who volunteer to undergo the procedure is that they instantly become rich.


Downsizing stars Kristen Wiig and Matt Damon arrive at the Venice Film Festival Credit:Joel Ryan
Matt Damon stars as Paul Safranek, who still lives in the same house in Omaha that he grew up in, first with his mother, then with his wife (Kristen Wigg). When they are turned down for a mortgage, they decide to join the ever-growing group of folks who have downsized after they learn that their assets of $125,000 would be worth $12.5 million in a town designed for the small. They could easily afford a McMansion -- not to mention spa treatments, tennis, jewels -- everything the consumer culture dreams of achieving, and not exactly what the Norwegian scientists had in mind when pondering ways of how to save the planet.

Matt Damon, Kristen Wiig, Hong Chau and Alexander Payne
The reviews are mostly positive, but with caveats:

From Variety:

Alexander Payne's science-fiction comedy about humans who get miniaturized to save the planet (and live like royalty) is that rare thing: a ticklish and resonant crowd-pleaser for grown-ups.

 ...Payne may be the closest thing we have to a studio-system classicist. His films are built with a craftsmanship so beveled and honed that it’s beyond impeccable, yet that very precision can, at times, rob his movies of spontaneity. ...the movie, in the end, is more amusing than exhilarating, and what should be its emotional payoff hinges too much (for my taste) on the director’s apocalyptic vision of climate change. “Downsizing” turns into a movie about saving the human race. But it’s most fun when it’s about saving one man whose life turns out to be bigger than a hill of beans.
What I liked best about the film were the international characters that Paul encounters in Leisureland and beyond, throwing him completely out of his Omaha middle-class comfort zone.

From the Daily Beast:

...Paul sets off on one of those oh-so-Hollywood journeys of self-discovery, encountering a series of outsize characters along the way. There is Dusan (Christoph Waltz, deliciously extra), a Serbian smuggler with a penchant for drug-fueled all-night parties in his penthouse suite, and Ngoc Lan (Hong Chau, extraordinary), a cleaning company owner who resides in a dilapidated tenement on the outskirts of Leisureland populated by the (predominately Hispanic) mini-forgotten.

During the press conference, a journalist asked if Payne and Taylor had intentionally set out to write a film where an American man gets educated by Europeans and an Asian woman -- a question I thought was terrific because I had wondered the same thing. Taylor sputtered a bit until finally admitting, "This is the first time we're hearing that."

Christoph Walz and Hong Chau
Hong Chau has been singled out for her dynamic performance:
Variety again: “...Hong Chau’s performance is remarkable. She starts off as a borderline stereotype — a bitter refugee spitting venom in broken English — and then melts into the film’s most surprising character.”
From The Wrap: "If there’s a standout here, it’s Chau, taking a character who could easily have been a saintly martyr and making her funny, bristly, moving and occasionally profane. As awards season kicks up, she should definitely be part of the conversation."
From The Telegraph: "..it’s rescued from mawkishness by some well-placed jabs of dry humour and a terrifically appealing performance from Chau, whose character’s snappy matter-of-factness beautifully complements Damon’s nicely pitched bluff affability. Their chemistry turbo-charges the film through its increasingly foreboding final stretch, in which the fate of humanity (really!) hangs in the balance."
It is a striking coincidence that the film premiered during the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, and the catastrophic flooding in Houston, Texas -- even though Jim Taylor said they had been working on it for about ten years.

Downsizing opens on December 22.

Ciao from the Venice Film Festival,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

1 comment:

  1. Kudos to Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor for writing a script with a great role for a woman -- and a Vietnamese dissident with an amputated leg, no less. Hong Chau will certainly be nominated when award season rolls around for her role as Ngoc Lan, a house cleaner who captures Matt Damon's heart after he shrinks down and moves into Leisureland, New Mexico, the ultimate suburbia for small people.

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