By Piya Sinha-Roy
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - When filmmaker Alexander Payne and his writing partner came up with the idea in 2006 of a future in which humans could opt to be five inches tall to live better lives, little did they know how timely the story would be in 2017.
"Downsizing," out in U.S. theaters on Friday and starring Matt Damon, shows a world in which people get "downsized" to live in environmentally friendly micro-communities, only to end up with their dreams shattered.
Far from utopias, the communities mimic their life-size consumerist counterparts with chain restaurants, while the poor are walled off in a slum.
"With (U.S. President Donald) Trump in power and his cadre of Republicans and the direction they are taking this country ... it's sad that a lot of the images we came up with years ago have more, I don't want to say power, but seem more vital today," said Oscar-winning Payne, known for "The Descendants" and "Sideways."
"Downsizing" centers on Paul and Audrey Safranek (Damon and Kristen Wiig), who choose to be downsized to live in a luxurious miniature town, Leisureland. Paul finds himself stuck in a mundane routine and befriends Ngoc Lan Tran (Hong Chau), a Vietnamese dissident who was forcibly downsized by her government and ended up cleaning homes in Leisureland.
While the movie explores environmental damage, human behavior and the immigrant experience, Damon said "Downsizing" was meant to be a light-hearted take on a novel concept.
"This movie is really fun at its heart and it's a satire," Damon said. "Hopefully it'll start discussions."
Vietnamese-American actress Chau portrays the endearingly upbeat Ngoc Lan, a role that brought her supporting actress nominations at the Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild awards last week.
Chau, born in a refugee camp in Thailand to Vietnamese parents who came to America and worked tough jobs, said she used her parents' background to inform her character.
"Usually with immigrants, (people) think, 'I already know what their story is,' or 'it's sad, I don't want to hear it,' Chau said.
"The easiest way is probably to just be able to empathize with people and the best way to empathize with people is to show a story that humanizes them," she added.
(Reporting by Piya Sinha-Roy; Editing by Richard Chang)