Wednesday, March 13, 2024

Honey, I Shrunk Myself

Director: Alexander Payne
Cast: Matt Damon, Christoph Waltz, Kristen Wiig, Hong Chau
Released: December 22, 2017

As someone who lives in Omaha, the people of Omaha/Nebraska should be thankful for Alexander Payne. Why? Because if it weren't for him, the state of Nebraska would probably be best known for Teen Wolf, and trust me, we need all the help we can get. Yes, we have Warren Buffett and that one Lady Gaga song, but as far as films, it would be totally embarrassing and shameful if Teen Wolf (which takes place in some fictional Nebraska town, but wasn't filmed there) was the movie everyone thought about if (for whatever reason) movies that take place in Nebraska was brought up. Payne, who is from Omaha, has set many of his movies in Nebraska, usually Omaha. I remember when I saw About Schmidt with my mom and she goes, "Oh! There's [name of friend]'s house!" 

So this movie is interesting, to say the least. I knew that it was about Matt Damon becoming small (very small!) and when I first started watching it, I was like, Oh, this movie is like Honey I Shrunk the Kids! Except it's not. In that movie, Rick Moranis invents his contraption to shrink items; it's not meant for shrinking people. In this movie, shrinking people is very intentional and the whole point. Also, once you become small, you can never go back to your normal size, but, luckily, in Honey, the four shrunken kids are restored to their normal size. 

The movie starts in Bergen, Norway, where we see a scientist inject a mouse with something and put it into some machine, and, later, when he opens it, he looks surprised. We don't see the mini mouse (heh), but we know what he's seeing because we know what this movie's about. He excitedly tells his news to another colleague. 

Five years later and we're in Istanbul at a conference with a company called Global Solutions where the topic that day will be "Human Scale and Sustainability" with Dr. Andreas Jacobsen and Dr. Jorgen Asbjornsen from the Edvardsen Institute. In case you couldn't tell from their names, they're the two men from Norway we met in the first scene. 

Dr. Jacobsen tells the audience that the Institute "identified overpopulation as mankind's single greatest long-term threat" in the 1950s. One of their ideas they came up with many year ago seemed "too ambitious" and "out of their grasp", but they have finally made it a reality. While he's talking, he's standing next to a podium with a wooden box, maybe a little bigger than a shoebox, on it. He announces they are about to unveil what they "believe to be the only practical, humane and inclusive remedy to humanity's gravest problem" (He sure is laying it on thick here!) and that his colleague, Dr. Jorgen Ashborgsen, will tell them what it is. The audience clearly sees what is it when he lifts the box to reveal the tiny man who is Jorgen. He is standing behind his own tiny podium. 

Everyone is gasping and I can't blame them. That would freak me the f*** out. People are standing to get a better look and most of them are taking pictures/videos with their phones. Honestly, I'm surprised they were allowed to bring their phones. Somebody could just post a picture/video to social media and it would be out before they were ready to share their finding with the rest of the world. Even though Jorgen is small, his voice is still the same when he was his normal size. He says he and his colleagues "discovered a process by which all organic material can be reduced at the cellular level by a ratio of approximately 2,744 to one." This converts a man of 1.8 meters (5'11"; I had to ask Alexa to convert!) to 12.9 centimeter (5 inches)! That's a lot of science and math in one sentence. They also tested flora and fauna and "with the exception of some fish and shellfish, no side effects were detected." (I wonder what they were). 

He presents a slideshow on the screen with the "experimental group" which consisted of 36 volunteers who joined him and his wife, Anne-Helene. Once they knew the procedure was safe, these 36 people became the "very first humans to undergo cellular reduction." I'm sorry, but who the f*** would volunteer for this? Jorgen says the volunteers are brave, but I would call them stupid idiots. We see a slide of the group sitting on some rocks outside. I guess the rocks are supposed to be pebbles, but they look like normal sized people sitting on/standing around boulders, which it probably is in reality! He claims the process is "short and painless" (heh, I wonder if he realized he was making a pun), the only discomfort being the "removal and replacement of dental and other prosthetics" We see a before and after picture of a man who downsized and the latter has a ruler and a measuring cup next to the tiny man to make it clear and obvious he's tiny! 

This must be going viral by now (thanks to all those audience members publishing their pics and videos to social media!) because other people who are in the building (at other conferences or meetings, I guess) come rushing into the auditorium to see the tiny man. He is now talking about their "little village" which is 7 meters (23 feet) by 11 meters (36 feet). It was "placed inside a gas-permeable enclosure designed to protect [them] from the hazards of weather, animals, and insects." Obviously, these people have never seen Honey, I Shrunk the Kids or they would know they could become friends with ants! Remember Anty? While he tells them they are living together in "the world's very first self-sustaining community of the small" (well, duh), Dr. Jacobsen, who had left while Tiny Jorgen was talking, walks in with a trash bag that's probably a third full, and announces to the audience that he's holding "all of the un-compostable waste produced by 36 people over four years." Wait, shouldn't it be 38 people since it was 36 people who joined Jorgen and Anne-Helene? Well, 36/38, either way, they don't use that much trash. Can you imagine how much waste 36 (or 38!) people produce in four years? Much more than that! I guess the tiny people have to feel smug about something! They have a "proposal for a two to three hundred-year transition for the world to transform from big into small." 

This seems like a lot of work to transform every person in the world (not to mention all the flora and fauna!) into miniature versions of themselves. Not to mention you'll have to completely change the infrastructure and don't get me started on transportation. Are there going to be tiny planes and boats now? I'm not exactly sure how far they got into their plan. There's a lot of holes in their plan that don't always get addressed. 

The very first village of tiny people are brought out on stage on a cart and the audience thinks this is the greatest thing ever. Nobody seems to have any objection to this at all. You think there would be one person who might find this a little unethical? No? Anyway, as you may have guessed, trick photography is used in scenes like this. 

They don't specify but I'm guessing all the small people are Norwegian. Jorgen points out a family with a toddler and baby and tells them that Ronni Nestrud is the "first small baby ever born." I'm guessing his baby sister is the second small baby ever born! 

I have to wonder....they said these 36 people volunteered to become small, but do you think there was a much larger pool of volunteers and they specifically picked these 36 people because they would help society? Like, maybe there was a doctor, someone in engineering, computer software, construction, just different experts in different subjects so they would have the knowledge to create what they needed? They don't really address that, but it must be the case! 

To no one's surprise, this thing goes viral and is shown all over the world. This is when we meet Paul Safranek (Matt Damon) who lives in Omaha and works at Omaha Steaks. This is just a quick introduction and the next thing we know, ten years have passed. He's now married to a woman named Audrey (Kristen Wiig) and still works at Omaha Steaks, but he's an in-house physical therapist who helps people with their wrists and joints. 

By this time, it's been fifteen years since the reveal of the new technology that can make people become small and several people have undergone the treatment. Paul and two of his friends are at a bar watching a news program that is debating the effects of people becoming small. We see a regular sized man and a small woman debating. The man says it's having a "devastating effect on our world economy" as billions of dollars are lost in consumer spending.  

So in this part of the movie, it's set in Omaha and I did get a chuckle out of a few things that only I (or anyone from here) would get. Paul and Audrey are wanting to move and are looking at a very nice house (that's probably in west Omaha!) and Audrey really likes it, but Paul thinks they should look "at that place in Benson". Haha, I know where that is! We see them attend a reunion at Creighton Prep. I've heard of it! Matt Damon wears a "Nebraska" shirt in a couple scenes. Ha, do you think he felt like a traitor? 

At the reunion, Paul runs into a former classmate randomly played by James Van der Beek (we'll see some other cameos pop up later) who is in the medical field. We find out that Paul was pre-med and wanted to be a surgeon, but had to take care of his sick mom (who has since passed away). Basically, he could have had this great life and make good money, but that's not the way things worked out for him.

During the reunion, a guy walks in with a diorama box and it contains a former class mate, Dave Johnson, and his wife, Carol who have both become small. In the box there are two small couches and they both have miniature megaphones (hmmm, is that an oxymoron?) they use to communicate. Quick question: do they have to make the small furniture, or can they shrink that too? I'm guessing it's the former. Now if they had Wayne Szalinkski's contraption, they could have easily just shrunk furniture and other objects. 

After the party, a few people have gone back to Paul and Audrey's house, including the small couple. While Carol is talking to a large group in the living room (she's on the coffee table they're sitting around), Paul is talking to Dave in the kitchen. Dave tells Paul that he and Carol had been living in Vegas where he had gotten "into some real bad habits" and "hit rock bottom." He and his wife decided they needed to change and "start all over" and that's why they became small. (That's a pretty intense and permanent change!) Paul tells him he must feel good about helping to save the planet, but Dave tells him "downsizing is about saving yourself." He says it takes money pressure off and that he's not "driven and ambitious", but he and Carol have a pretty cushy life. He tells Paul that if he and Audrey ever decide to go to small, they should live in Leisureland which is located in New Mexico. The name makes me laugh because it sounds like something you would find at the Magic Kingdom at Disney World, you know, like Adventureland or Tomorrowland, etc. Leisureland has the best houses, doctors, and even has three Cheesecake Factories! (Why the f*** do you need THREE of those?) 

Much later, Paul will have another conversation with his (small) neighbor who tells him that people don't become small to help the environment, but do it to become rich and have the things they couldn't have if they weren't small. 

Both Paul and Carol have romanticized the idea of being small and Paul and Audrey basically think what do they have to lose? They drive to Sante Fe where people go to get small just so they can check it out and see "if it's for [them] or not." On the drive there, they pass a billboard for Leisureland Estate claiming to be "America's #1 micro communinity." Pictured is a bunch of people and a dog...and a hot air balloon, so I guess they've created hot air balloons for the miniature people! They enter a huge building that has models of the homes that small people in. Actually, models would imply that they're smaller scale, but these are probably the same size of the actual homes you would see in Leisureland. They look like huge doll houses, so they're basically mansions for the miniature people. 

A huge home for the small if set up in a theater and Senior Product Specialist Jeff Lonowoksi (played by Neil Patrick Harris) comes out the front door, being filmed by a camera guy and it's being shown on the screen for the normal sized people to watch. How did they create a camera that small? I guess it's very possible to create anything in small scale! 

He shows the audience the inside of his house (which, let's be real, probably isn't really his house, but probably a version of it) and it opens up like a dollhouse. I'm guessing since this is a show house for normal sized people, they created it that way so they could see the inside. Laura Dern is taking a bubble bath in the upstairs bathroom and her name is Laura and I thought she was playing herself, but she's the wife to Jeff, so she's just playing a character named Laura. I know Alexander Payne worked with Bruce Dern in Nebraska, so it was probably easy for him to get her to have a quick cameo in this movie. She's pretty much there to schmooze about what an amazing life they have. She's taking a bubble bath "to relax after such a busy day." She took a tennis lesson, had a massage, and after "a gourmet lunch with the girls" (heh, guess they didn't go to one of the three Cheesecake Factories in their town!), they went downtown to the new jewelry store where she bought "another diamond necklace" with a matching necklace and earrings. Of course she had to add that they were "all conflict free and set in platinum." All of it cost only $83 which is also equal to their food budget for two months. I have to say, they are doing a great job of selling becoming small because the normal sized people are looking very impressed and Paul and Audrey both have an excited look on their face as if to say that they're ready for this lavish lifestyle. I don't know...I don't know if I could become a miniature version of myself just to have all this nice stuff. It might seem great at first, but I feel like I would regret it very soon! 

Paul and Audrey talk to a (normal-sized) representative about going small and how much it would cost. She tells them that if they "liquidate [their] current home, cars, and other assets, they can purchase the Regency-level estate (which is the 12,000 square foot equivalent home on the 1.5 acre equivalent lot) at a base price of $63,000." Added to that will be the heat and fitness package ($4,500) that includes gym, pool sauna, stream, hot tub, and a tennis court. The medical procedure for the two of them will cost $15,00 and insurance doesn't cover any of it, but "at the Recency level [they] qualify for a substantial discount." Now I wasn't quite clear if it was $15,000 for the both of them or each of them, but either way, it seemed kind of cheap for the procedure they might undergo. She takes a look at their current debt and retirement and other savings to see they are at a $152,000 in equity and tells them that's a "comfortable number" and in Leisureland that translates to 12.5 million. Both Paul and Audrey are very impressed by this and it makes them happy. Audrey asks the woman why she hasn't become small since it's such a good thing and she replies that she would except that her husband had a hip replacement so he's ineligible. A part of me (the cynical part) was wondering if the woman was just making that up, that she was just trying to sell them on becoming small and makes up some reason why she isn't a small person because she does a great job of selling it! 

Back home, Paul and Audrey decide that they're going to go through with becoming small and they sell a bunch of their stuff at a garage sale. In one of the last scenes set in Omaha, they have a farewell dinner with their friends at a restaurant called Jams downtown in the Old Market. This was the most exciting part of the movie for me because I've been to that very restaurant a couple times! The last time I was there I ordered the Texas Chopped Salad. 

Audrey tells her friends that she'll miss them, but they'll be back at least once a year to visit. Her dad shows up without her mom. He tells her that she "couldn't bring herself to come, but she sends her love." He adits that he was a little skeptical about the idea at first, but then he talked to an old friend who became small and he and his wife retired in Leisureland and that they're "getting along just fine" and that now he "sees the appeal." I appreciate that they gave at least one character (even though they're off screen) some reservation about this whole procedure. 

Before they head out to Santa Fe, Paul and Audrey have put their wedding rings and a few sentimental photo and letters in a box marked "Keepsakes" and these will be the only things they will keep. When they're small, they can hang the pictures on their walls as huge portraits! 

Once they get to New Mexico, they take a bus from the airport to the facility. There's a closed off section (kind of like a display case) where a bunch of small people are sitting in their small seats. One of the small women (played by Margo Martindale) strikes up a conversation with Paul (who was sort of staring at the small people). When he tells her he's nervous about becoming small, she tells him he shouldn't be, because "it's the best thing you'll ever do." Seriously, does not one person regret becoming small? I find that hard to believe.  

Okay, better put a spoiler warning here, just in case.

Slight spoilers coming up ahead! You have been warned! 

Before they go through with the procedure, they have to answer some legal questions such as "Do you understand of your own free will, you will undergo the permanent and irreversible medical procedure commonly known as 'downsizing', and that following the procedure your bodies will be approximately .0364 percent of their current mass and volume?" They have to give their consent to have this medical procedure and they are also told "that there exists an approximately one in 225,000 chance that the procedure could result in injury, permanent disability, or death." 

They're sitting in the waiting room and Paul's name is called. They both get up, but the nurse tells Audrey that she'll have to wait until her name is called because they separate the men and women. The whole procedure will take about five hours and they'll be reunited in the recovery room. Paul and Audrey hug goodbye and tell each other "I love you" and Audrey watches as Paul walks down the very long hallway with the nurse. It's gotta be a scary thought that the next time you'll see your spouse, they will be complete different. 

The majority of the five hours is spent getting ready for the actual procedure and we are shown a montage as Paul and other men are being prepped. Everyone's head and face is shaven clean, including eyebrows, then they are put under sedation and the rest of the body hair is shaved off. Next, dentists work on teeth to remove any cavities or fillings. When that is done, all the patients are wheeled into a huge machine (there's probably 30 men on gurneys in there) and they are all injected with "downsizing solution" which you must "shake well before use." Now don't get that mixed up with any other kind of solution! The door is shut and secured and the machine is turned on and it only seems like the actual shrinking only takes about a minute! The hell? A few nurses, who have been waiting (cuz they know this doesn't take much time at all!), go in and lift the tiny men off the beds with a spatula-like tool (hell, they probably WERE spatulas) and place them on a cart and they are delivered through a slot where small doctors and nurses are on the other side to finish up the rest which is just pretty much putting in new fillings for their teeth. 

Paul wakes up in the recovery room and the nurse checks up on him and everything seems to be okay. She asks if he's hungry and comes back holding an individually wrapped saltine cracker and of course it's almost as big as she is. (I'm sure they had a lot of fun with the props!) This is just a cute joke she plays on everyone and tells him she'll bring him some real food. Paul asks about his wife and she checks the records where she sees Audrey's name, but she hasn't been transferred over yet. She assumes she's probably still in dental. Now, at this point, it did cross my mind that something happened like maybe Audrey had died during the procedure. But what actually happens makes way more sense to the plot: she didn't die; she never went through with the procedure. Paul finds this out when he receives a phone call from her. We see her at the airport wearing a hat and one of her eyebrows has been shaved off, so it looks like she made it that far, and, as she tells him, she freaked out after they shaved her hair. She came to the realization that she didn't want to leave her friends and family and while she feels awful, she realized she was only doing this because she was trying to make him happy. Look, I don't blame her at all; that is a very big change to undergo, but it's too bad she didn't talk to him about this sooner. It's pretty funny when she tells him she's upset and he replies, "You're upset? I'm the one who's five f***ing inches tall!" 

Paul now has his nice, cushy big small home all to himself. When the keepsake box (which transforms into a storage truck) arrives at his house, a delivery man carries the rings up to his house and it looks like he's carrying two heavy gold hula hoops. 

One evening, Paul is watching BBC World News where the anchor is talking about how the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Immigration and Naturalization Services "have been warning about the ease with which downsized people, from illegal immigrants to potential terrorists, could penetrate U.S. borders." They report a story about how last week at a Target store in Eugene, Oregon, workers "opened a suspicious TV box (there were small holes in one corner) and discovered 17 downsized stowaways from Vietnam, 14 of them already dead, two more dying hours later at a local hospital." The only survivor was a woman named Ngoc Lan Tran (Hong Chau) who was transferred to the best hospital in Leisureland and doctors had to "amputate a portion of an infected leg". Her condition is "described as fair but stable." Ngoc Lan claims to have been jailed for her "political and environmental activism and was miniaturized against her will in a Vietnamese prison facility." This will all come back later. 

One year has passed and Paul and Audrey are officially divorced and Paul has moved into a nice apartment. He works at call center for Land's End and we see he's not really into the job and snaps at a caller who can't decide what color sweater she wants. The woman tells him, "Don't be short with me!" and he gets offended. 

I think this movie is more interesting when you see small people interacting with normal sized people because then you can see the obvious difference, but when Paul is interacting with other small people, you kind of forget they're all five inches tall...probably because they're just normal sized people in real life! 

Paul starts dating a woman, but it doesn't really go anywhere, so he decides to check out one of the wild parties that are often hosted by his upstairs eccentric European neighbor, Dasan (Christoph Waltz). He introduces his friend, Konrad, who is a sea captain, to Paul. Dusan had been in Paul's apartment earlier and noticed he had a life size rose that he got from the shop that sells life size flowers, so Paul brought it to him as a gift. I do enjoy when they bring in props to show us (and remind us!) that these are tiny people. 

The next morning after the wild party Paul wakes up in Dasan's living room and sees three Vietnamese cleaning ladies come in to tidy up the place. He recognizes one of them as the one found in the box from the news because she's limping. He catches her stealing pills and thinks she's taking them for her leg. She informs him that they're old pills and Dusan allows her to take them; she's taking them for her roommate who is very sick. He offers to help with her prosthetic leg and after looking at her leg, he tells her she has arthritis and if she doesn't do something about it soon she's going to need a new knee. He advises her she need to go to a specialist as soon as she can to get a new foot. In the meantime, he can make adjustments to her exiting prosthetic and give her tips on how to walk better. She tells him when she's done with her cleaning, he can come with her. He says they can do it here, but she wants him to go with her to help her sick friend. He tells her he's not a doctor, but she says she's tried to take her to a clinic, but her friend has to wait too long and she can't find any doctors to help.

So they take a bus that goes through a tunnel and Ngoc Lan takes him to her very crowded and shambled apartment building where she shows Paul her bed ridden and sick roommate. Paul gives her some pills that might ease her comfort, but the next day, we find out she died. This whole plot point was to get a working relationship/friendship started with Paul and Ngoc Lan. He tells her he will help her clean until she has a better prosthetic to walk on. 

Ngoc Lan gathers leftover food from the wealthy people she cleans for (with permission) and takes it back to some of the people who reside at her apartment. 

Two weeks pass and Dusan invites Paul to join him and Konrad to visit the original small colony in Norway. After the party, Paul told Dasan that he met met Little Ronni (remember, he's the first small baby ever to be born and now he's a teenager) who still lives in Norway and how he's always wanted to visit the original small colony. Dasan tells him it's "all right" and he usually goes once or twice a year with Konrad for business. 

Now Paul has his chance to go and when the three men tell Ngoc Lan this, she invites herself along (not what they were expecting!) because she's been invited before because of her story. She had received a letter from Dr. Jorgen Asbjornsen who told her he feels guilty that her becoming small was a bad thing and that he never meant for it to be that way. He had invited her to Norway and she never had the means to get there, but now she has the chance to go there and meet him. 

The next thing we know, they're on a boat in the waters of Norway and Jorgen and Anne-Helene have joined them. They're talking about how methane in Antartica has been released and "it's the end of everything" and that "homo sapiens will soon vanish from the Earth." Paul asks if downsizing is an option for humankind, but Jorgen informs him that only 3% of the population has downsized and there isn't enough time. That's a shockingly low number considering that downsizing has been around for about 16 years. I guess the majority of the population wasn't into it. 

When they get to the first small colony (I can't remember the name of it...Smallville, perhaps? Heh.), Paul and Ngoc Lan are shown a huge tunnel (well huge for small people) that leads to the vault the colony have been workin on "almost since the beginning." They are told "the tunnel leads to a vault 1.6 kilometers (almost one mile) inside the Earth's lithosphere (which is the solid outermost rock shell of the planet...I had to look it up) and is encased in a double layer of Inconel 625" (I have no idea what the f*** that is). There's way too much math and scidene in this movie! Anyway, back to this vault. In it, they will be containing a "broad spectrum of biodiversity, the vault is equipped with fields for growing foods, forest for lumber, livestock for animal husbandry, the residential areas are spacious and easily expandable to provide for future generations." While they are being told about this, there's a monitor with many screens so they can see all this. Everything is lit because of artificial light. The power is 100% geothermal. They have though of everything and it's only possible for them to do this because of their small size. They all will be heading down in the earth's core soon and they will stay down there for 8,000 years (!!!) or "until the surface environment stabilizes." Ugh, no thank you! Paul, however,  thinks this is the best idea ever and he wants to join them. 

He tells Ngoc Lan and he wants her to go with him. By this point, they've developed a somewhat romantic relationship. She refuses and tells him she needs to go back home and take care of the people there.

When it's finally time to go into tunnel (just a few days later), Paul says his goodbyes to Ngoc Lan, Dusan, and Konrad who will all be heading home soon. There's a long line of people going into the tunnel and he's the very last to enter. The only thing he has with him is his suitcase...something tells me he's not going to have enough clothes for this expedition. He runs up to somebody and asks him if they're walking uphill. The guy replies that they are because it prevents flooding. Then he adds a bombshell that Paul wasn't ready for (and thank God he found out about it now!): It's just a few hours climb before they descend to the vault and that entire walk will take eleven hours. Ugh, no thank you! 

Paul looks ahead at the people who are walking towards the vault, then back at the door which is still open, about half a mile away. Two guys are about to shut the door (and once the door shuts, it will be shut for good!) and he starts booking it, yelling at them not to shut it. He barely makes it out (and has to leave his suitcase because it gets stuck) and his three friends are still waiting for him outside. 

Can you imagine if he hadn't gotten that information about the eleven hour walk until one minute later? He might have not made it out in time! Also, how could he not have already known this information before he went? It seemed like this was just a spur-of-the-moment decision he made with no thought behind it whatsoever. Yeah, I'm sure the eleven hour walk didn't seem like a fun time to him, but I feel like if he really wanted to do this, he would have endured i.

They go back home and back to their lives.

This movie was interesting, but not my favorite. It gets pretty preachy at times. Honestly, if you want to watch a movie about people who become small, go see Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. It's much more entertaining, not to mention much shorter (I swear, that was not meant to be a pun!). Not to mention, in Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, you are constantly reminded that the kids are small (Anty, Rick Moranis almost eating his son who fell in his Cheerios, the entire backyard, the Lego, etc. etc.), while in Downsizing, I would literally forget that they're supposed to be tiny.