Alexander Payne is a fantastic filmmaker, but with movies like Nebraska and The Descendants under his belt, he’s not exactly known for his genre work. That, however, may change some with his weirdo social satire Downsizing, which has a definite science fiction bend to it. As usual, he’s putting together one hell of a cast, and this time out he’s reuniting with a former co-conspirator in the form of Reese Witherspoon, who has been connected to the project in an earlier form.
The Academy Award-winning actress worked with Payne back in 1999 on Election, which is one of the films that made you realize that she was going to be someone you’d be seeing a lot more of in the future. That’s also the film that really brought Payne to people’s attention. Witherspoon is coming off of a buzzed about turn in Wild, which people who pay attention to such things think could get her another Oscar this year. According to Deadline, she’s joining Matt Damon, who already signed on a few months back. (He reportedly walked away from a part in Zhang Yimou’s epic The Great Wall for this part.)
Payne has been toying with the idea of Downsizing for years and it has been in the works since he finished Sideways in 2004. It’s bigger in scale and more resource intensive than most of his previous films, and he wanted to make sure he could get the backing for a production like this. He also wanted to be confident that he had the technical skills to pull this off as a director before heading down this road. At one point there was even a cast in place, which included Witherspoon, Paul Giamatti, Meryl Streep, Sacha Baron Cohen, and Gong Li, but it never materialized.
A dystopian, geopolitical satire, Downsizing is set in Norway in the near future. Humans now have the ability to shrink themselves to 1/8 the size in order to decrease our consumption, ensure that out planetary resources last longer, and make cities less crowded. If you go through this process, you become a “Small” and live in miniature, prefab societies protected by nets so bugs and pests don’t get in.
Payne has painstakingly fleshed out this world, as you expect from such a meticulous filmmaker. When you go small you can cash out and retire—one big dollar equals 500 small dollars, you produce less waste, and you take up less space. In America, you can choose to live this way, but in Europe, which has become increasingly crowded, legislation mandates that 40% of the population be shrunk. While this is a big, sweeping story, even part sci-fi nightmare, given Payne’s track record, you have to imagine this will be more personal story and show this world from an individual perspective.