New Payne Pairs Witherspoon and . . . Giamatti?

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It looks like Terrence Malick isn’t the only director who wants to play with advanced CGI technology. Writer-director Alexander Payne is just finishing up his script for Downsizing, which would star Paul Giamatti as a down-on-his-luck man who decides to undergo a radical miniaturization procedure to make his life easier. Okay! Along the course of his adventure, he would encounter Reese Witherspoon, as well as Sasha Baron Cohen, playing a dual role of two brothers. And, as if that weren’t enough, rumors abound that Meryl Streep will be making an appearance as well. However, as of yet, nothing has been confirmed from Queen Meryl’s camp. Downsizing would be the first film that Mr. Payne has directed since getting nominated for his work behind the camera on Sideways back in 2004. That’s not quite a Terrence Malick-level break, but five years is quite a long time between projects.

At the risk of sounding sacrilegious, we’ve never bowed down to the altar of Mr. Payne and his long-time co-writer Jim Taylor (who is also credited on Downsizing). Oh, we’ll still stand proudly behind Election, one of the best movies from the last fifteen years, but About Schmidt and Sideways were utter bores at best. In both cases, it was as if Mr. Payne studied Billy Wilder, Albert Brooks and Woody Allen obsessively and then removed all the fun and intelligence from their work. Add in the fact that he was at least partially responsible for Jurassic Park III and I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry (of which, admittedly, the finished project was much different from what Mr. Payne originally wrote), and it seems to us that you’ve got a writer-director who is a lot more of a hack then people care to admit. Put it this way: you don’t see Noah Baumbach doing a once over on Paul Blart: Mall Cop. Criticism aside, Mr. Payne does seem to bring out the best in his cast of actors. Ms. Witherspoon, Mr. Giamatti, Jack Nicholson, Kathy Bates and Thomas Haden Church have all given excellent performances under his tutelage and some of them even picked up Oscar nominations (though we’re still trying to figure out how neither Ms. Witherspoon nor Mr. Giamatti got snubbed for Election and Sideways, respectively.)

As for Downsizing, well, despite our feelings about Mr. Payne, even we have to admit that this film sounds appealing in a totally insane way. We’re picturing Honey, I Shrunk the Kids as re-written by Charlie Kaufman. Still the one thing we can’t reconcile is the idea that Mr. Giamatti and Ms. Witherspoon could possibly end up as on-screen lovers. We love you, Paul, but that would definitely be a case of punching above your weight class. In a word: gross.

New Payne Pairs Witherspoon and . . . Giamatti?