Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Payne enlists Giamatti, Witherspoon, and Baron Cohen in 'Downsizing'

By Sarah Sluis

In the kind of casting decision which is why we cover casting decisions, writer/director Alexander Payne has cast Paul Giamatti, Reese Witherspoon, and Sacha Baron Cohen in his next project, about a man who copes with the recession by shrinking himself. He's "downsizing," if you will, which will also be the title of the film.



I can't think of a more bizarre clash of film personas, nor such a fantastical, Charlie Kaufman-like premise from a director who has focused on the decidedly more realistic: Sideways, About Schmidt, Election, and Citizen Ruth. Payne hasn't finished the script, meaning the details are subject to change (as well as the casting decision--no one will be officially signed until the script is complete).

The sketched-out plot goes something like this: Paul Giamatti, a man hard on luck and short on money, decides to make himself smaller. Witherspoon plays his love interest, a (full-sized) woman he meets on his journey. Cohen would play a double role, a tiny Spaniard who likely thinks his life is great and models the miniature lifestyle for Giamatti, and his full-sized brother.

Payne is known for his dark satires, and has worked with both Witherspoon (Election) and Giamatti (Sideways) before. I do think that Payne's black comedy + weird plot quirk approximates Kaufman, although admittedly Kaufman's screenplays tend to use these devices to move back and forth between different worlds or time periods, instead of choosing something and running with it, which is the route I suspect Payne will choose.

Also on board the project is Jim Taylor, who has co-written all of Payne's directorial projects. After Payne finishes the script, it will make the rounds at Fox Searchlight, where Payne has a first-look deal. Because of the special effects involved (although isn't shrinking pretty de rigueur and easily executed these days?), some think the studio will balk at the budget, although from my viewpoint, the cast will cost a lot more than the special effects.

The film joins a number being made about the recession, which hopefully will be in the past once this set of films release. Fox is making a sequel to Wall Street, Baz Luhrmann has his eye on The Great Gatsby, and Ridley Scott plans to make his Monopoly board game adaptation relevant to current economic conditions. I'm all for these projects, but where are the glitzy musicals about poor showgirls scraping by with their dimes from the can-can lines? I want my Depression-era musicals!

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