Passion project alert! OK, so a thousand films are announced at the American Film Market and a lot of them are easy to sneer at or forget about, but this one is exciting. Alexander Payne’s “Downsizing” is coming back to life with Matt Damon in the lead role. Payne had been developing the project since “Sideways," but because of its scale and technological issues—he wasn't wasn’t well-versed in the latter at the time—he shelved it and instead took on “The Descendants” and then “Nebraska.”
Deadline, which broke the news, seems to have forgotten the logline, but we read the script ages ago. Below is what we wrote way back when as a kind of synopsis. Essentially, the film is a kind of dystopian satire with geo-political connotations, but much like Payne's work often is, it's personal and intimate.
"Downsizing," after all, starts off in Norway and takes place in a not-too-distant future where humans are now able to shrink themselves to 1/8 their size as a means to battle over-consumption and the rapid depletion of earth's natural resources, thanks to enlightened hippie-like Scandinavian scientists. "Smalls" get small, then become members of small cities (the main characters moves to a city called Leisureland) protected by large nets (keeps the bugs out) and built like Disney's Celebration Town (all planned, all pre-fabricated). Small people cash-in their savings and retire small; 1 big dollar equals 500 small dollars. Smalls live on less food, less land, and produce less trash. As the story progresses, Americans are free to get small, but in Europe, where resources are beginning to truly run out, legislation arises suggesting 40% of the population get shrunk (whether they like it or not). For the big, the world grows smaller and scarier; for the small, the world grows bigger and scarier.
The original cast featured Paul Giamatti, Sacha Baron Cohen, Meryl Streep, Reese Witherspoon, and Gong Li when it was set up at Fox Searchlight, but the trade mentions none of these names. But it appears the more bankable Damon has been set up in the lead over Giamatti, as a man who shrinks himself to a miniscule size in order to have what he believes will be a better life.
Damon will evidently have to pass up Zhang Yimou’s China-set epic “The Great Wall” to take the role, but considering we’ve been waiting for “Downsizing” to take shape for years, we’ll take it. No word on when it shoots, but it’s been a great week for old, seemingly dead projects coming back to life ala Terry Gilliam’s ‘Don Quixote.’