starring Matt Damon, Kristen Wiig, Hong Chau, Christoph Waltz
written by Alexander Payne & Jim Taylor
directed by Alexander Payne
by Walter Chaw Imagine if Tracy Flick, the energetic, demonic high-school overachiever in Alexander Payne's brilliant Election, were a Vietnamese exchange student, heavily and hilariously accented. That's one of the things wrong with Payne's excruciating downsizing, a film that takes his now-trademark twee misanthropy and mashes it up against this pretense of Swiftian social satire that sets the Sisyphus-like struggle of the bedraggled Everyman against a fatalistic backdrop of environmental apocalypse. It's a broad discourse on a lot of things: poverty and the failure of capitalism; the United States tearing itself apart along arbitrary class distinctions politicized into dramas of dominance and oppression. It's also about a filmmaker using science-fiction as a cudgel, swinging it about as disrespectfully as he does extreme racial caricaturing and destined to hold it up as a shield when whatever opposition comes rolling in to protest a film that mainstream publications out of Venice are already proclaiming some kind of contemporary masterpiece. It's like George Lucas all over again, but imagine if it were like Charlie Kaufman instead. For me, when you have an Asian character as problematic as Vietnamese refugee Ngoc Lan (Hong Chau), a figure set up as both an object of derision and a holy relic, everything else is drowned out in that noise.