By Jose Jara
Actress Hong Chau Looms Large Over Small Forgettable Film
By: Daniel Guzman
Matt Damon is on a roll as of late. Though not the kind of streak any actor wants to be placed in. This season of his career has been plagued with a downward spiral of lackluster films such as The Great Wall & Suburbicon. Damon is currently starring in Downsizing, a satire sci-fi comedy-drama about a middle-aged man who buys into having a better life if he shrinks himself 5 inches small. The premise of the story is that society has been sold on living a richer life if they permanently go through a ground breaking scientific miracle that allows you to shrink yourself in order to live in these bio-dome safe communities where a person’s $100,000 would translate to about $12,000,000, elevating a middle-class couple to a wealthier class.
Paul Safranek (Damon) is a good mild mannered occupational therapist who believes his mundane life can be revolutionized by having he and his wife, Audrey Safranek (Kristen Wig), join the band wagon of individuals shrinking themselves. Doing so would reduce their waste byproduct making a positive difference in leaving a smaller carbon footprint on the Earth. The real shadow mission that most of these people have as their true agenda is gaining a permanent life of leisure thanks to their immediate increased wealth. Things don’t go as planned though for Paul after permanently shrinking himself, leading him to have once again a mundane life, but having it in a much smaller setting.
This premise seems to me like it can be loosely based on the tiny house movement that has been taking place in the past decade. Not really in gaining wealth, but how much you can buy with so little, but let’s not go down that rabbit hole. The movie isn’t ever sure what it really wants to be. Is it a romantic comedy? Does it want to primarily focus on the science fiction aspect of it? By the end of it, the movie is giving you a drama about a society’s class hierarchy and how the wealthy are oblivious to what is actually happening in the world, while the poor are the ones left to suffer.
Just when I had about enough of this film with Damon’s pathetic character, in comes Christoph Waltz playing Paul’s party boy neighbor named Dusan. Paul’s neighbor tells it how it is and that brings a refreshing perspective to this film just when it needed a good dose of something both lively & genuine. All of a sudden, something great happens in this depressing story. We are introduced to Dusan’s cleaning lady Ngoc Lan Tran, played by actress Hong Chau. Ngoc Lan Tran is a Vietnamese activist who was forcibly shrunk down in order to quiet her successful protests. After being forced to shrink against her will, Ngoc Lan Tran also suffered having one of her legs amputated along the way.
I’ve never seen actress Hong Chau in a film before. Let me tell you that you will not forget her after seeing this film! She plays a stereotypical broken English Vietnamese with such contagious energy and heart that is overwhelming in all of her scenes. All the characters are forced to listen and follow at her performance, outshining everyone as soon as she steps foot, no pun intended, thereby saving this movie from being a total let down. Don’t get me wrong, the movie still ends up being an interesting idea executed badly. The one redeemable great thing Director Alexander Payne did was to let Hong Chau bring this character to life. The movie is split pretty much in half. The first half being awful, and the second half being dragged off the ground by the sheer charisma of a little Vietnamese lady named Ngoc Lan Tran. By the end, I was left confused as to why Matt Damon jumped into this jumbled mess of a movie, but finding a consolation prize in discovering the amazing talent carried out by Hong Chau.