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Jan 04 2018

A Case for Hong Chau in "Downsizing"

By Spencer Coile

Downsizingtook a quick downward turn during awards season.Premiering at the Venice Film Festival last August,it was met with exceedingly positive notices.This goodwill vanished after its lackluster showing at TIFF and its absence from subsequent awards conversation.And although the film is arguably not very good and looking like a non-entity for any major Oscar consideration,it does still have one strong asset: Hong Chau...

A performance both universally praised and steeped in controversy,Chau's portrayal of Ngoc Lan Tran,a Vietnamese dissident who was shrunk against her will,is the remaining glimmer of hope in awards season.While she has garnered enough precursor love to make her a viable Supporting Actress contender (Critics Choice,Golden Globe,and SAG nominations is a formidable pre-Oscar combo),what hope does Chau have in ending the season with a Oscar nomination?

Ngoc Lan is introduced at the midway point ofDownsizing.A political activist from Vietnam,Ngoc Lan immigrated to the United States inside a TV box and was the only survivor.She speaks in broken English,walks with a limp since half her leg was amputated,spends her free time taking care of downsized individuals from a lower socioeconomic status.To make ends meet,she works as a cleaning woman which is where she meets the film's leading character,Paul (Matt Damon).Her spirit and vitality inspire Paul and help him to care for those in need.

In very much the way Paul needs Ngoc Lan withinDownsizing,we need Hong Chau inDownsizing.She is the fresh air that the film breathes.She is dynamic as a strong-willed,stubborn,compassionate woman.Sure,Payne and Jim Taylor's screenplay is troubling in the way it depicts Ngoc Lan -- oftentimes,reducing her to a stereotype for the sake of humor.Fortunately,Chau is still able to imbue Ngoc Lan with enough strength and earnestness to transcend any potential mockery.Ultimately,the highest compliment I can offer to Chau's performance is that she made me wonder whyDownsizingwasn't about her in the first place.

Ngoc Lan is a character who is brought intoDownsizingto help its leading character,a white man,figure out his self-worth.On paper,she's a problematic character.But in Chau's hands,Ngoc Lan becomes the film's secret weapon.

As far as her awards chances are concerned,there is plenty of reason to believe thatshe'll squeak into that 5th spot.Downsizingdoesn't have the same critical support as most of the other films with contenders in that category but it might not matter.Chau received best-in-show notices and stole every scene from much better-known co-stars.Oscars have been awarded for far less than transforming a one-note character from a middling movie into a fully-developed and complex human being.亚博主页

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Reader Comments (21)

I feel like Hunter,Blige AND Chau are on shaky ground - all it will take is for The Darkest Hour,The Shape Of Water and/or Phantom Thread to receive across-the-board successes and all three could be displaced.

My guess is that Spencer knocks out Chau and Scott Thomas or Manville replaces one of the others.

I'd like Blige to hang in there but NETFLIX obviously....

January 4,2018 | Unregistered Commenterkermit_the_frog

Blige's buggest obstacle is Netflix stigma,otherwise she'd be more locked.Very sad if Hunter doesn't make it.

January 4,2018 | Unregistered CommenterParanoid Android

I feel like she's more of a lead character than a supporting.

January 4,2018 | Unregistered CommenterKamren

Been thinking about her and Tiffany Haddish...and the phenomenon of great performances in mediocre-to-bad movies.Would love to see an article on this idea.Trying to think of others.

January 4,2018 | Unregistered CommenterCorey

She leaps off the screen -- that was true for her small,unforgettable role in Inherent Vice -- and it's absolutely the case for Downsizing.Though the film is uneven,it opens strong,with a giddy premise and early,visually comic scenes that keep you intrigued.By the time Hong Chau shows up,you're hungry for what she's bringing to the story: heart,purpose,and the higher stakes the film needs to take you through to the the end.

She's also got that BIG scene,where the camera holds on her and she just acts the hell out of it.It reminds me of Emma Stone's emotional song in La La Land -- you can't turn away from her face,or the fact that she's showing you how deep her acting can go.

January 4,2018 | Unregistered CommenterSan FranCinema

She's this year Michael Shannon 99 homes,Jake G Nightcrawler,Swinton We need to talk about Kevin etc,people whose film doesn't have enough love around it or box office and Downsizing has been a major flop,Janney and Metcalf are the only ones who seem safe the others for reasons stated are vulnerable,I have a sneak feeling either KST or Manville make it.

January 4,2018 | Unregistered Commentermarkgordonuk

She's actually my favorite of the main contenders in the category.The Norway speech scene is a stunner.

January 4,2018 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

It would be terrible if Haddish did take a spot,what an awful character she played,Is that how women in general behave,The Grapefruit scene was not only unbelievable and unfunny but also the lowest form of crass.

January 4,2018 | Unregistered Commentermarkgordonuk

I've got a feeling this gets forgotten by Oscar.Janney/Metcalf feel like they're the battle for the trophy,Hunter is a former Oscar winner in a populist hit that will play well on screeners and Blige only has the Netflix stigma (and I think they won't care as much for a supporting performance that has zilch chance of winning).

While it doesn't necessarily come here,there's always one person who misses after scoring with Globes/SAG,and Chau being in a film that isn't going to make it quickly to the top of the screener pile and being largely unknown,feels like the nominee out of all of the categories (save perhaps Denzel Washington,who is an iconic Oscar-blessed movie star who has a lot more inroads with AMPAS) to be one that will be left behind.Haddish has gotten a lot of press,Spencer is an Oscar favorite in a Best Picture frontrunner,I suspect AMPAS will like Darkest Hour better than other awards bodies so that could carry KST,and Lesley Manville has a Marcia Gay Harden in Pollock vibe to me.Any of those four feel pretty primed to get in over Chau (my money's on Spencer).

January 4,2018 | Unregistered CommenterJohn T

Also,credit where credit is due: she gets to play a headstrong,agential woman who is neither solely a victim nor a savior,who is given desires and feelings that never conform neatly to expectations.The character is the best-written in the film,and Hong Chau delivers emphatically.

January 4,2018 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

The controversy over her character is idiotic.Meryl Streep plays a character with an accent and she's the second coming,but god forbid Hong Chau (a Vietnamese-American actress) portrays an actual Vietnamese character with an accent,and it's suddenly racist.People are crazy annoying.

I think she's in.I think Blige will be snubbed like Idris Elba was for Beasts of No Nation.The Netflix bias is strong in the Academy and I just have a feeling Mudbound won't be widely seen like other films.I also think Hunter is on shaky ground and The Big Sick could be a populist summer hit like The Butler that SAG embraces but the Academy is just not into.

Metcalf/Janney/Chau and best picture heat carries Spencer and Manville into the final five.

January 4,2018 | Unregistered CommenterAaron

I'd say that Octavia Spencer is a lock.At first,this character seemed like a knock-off from 'The Help,' but when the story took off - her character really hit her stride.She had the best one-liners and held her ground against Michael Shannon (who really deserves a nod for his villian.RJenkins seems to be getting all the attention mostly because of his character's 'isolation.')

I think that Holly Hunter is has enough industry love to get her in.She came out of nowhere for thirteen & The Firm.KScott-Thomas - out.She really didn't do another extraordinary except walk about with tons of pancake make-up on covering that face from The English Patient.Blige,probably squeaking in - but it's like voting for the enemy (Netflix/Amazon) who wants to destroy the movie-going experience.(That's why Beasts of all Nations was avoided.) Chau - seems like audiences are avoiding her film.If she doesn't make it,blame Matt Damon.

However the chips land,I'm sure that there'll be an outcry and the Academy will be forced to create a category for 'Best Performance by a Supporting Female in a mediocre-to-bad movie...'

January 4,2018 | Unregistered CommenterTOM

Curious about something: I keep reading about "Netflix bias"but do we think the same thing applies to Amazon?It certainly wasn't a stumbling block for Manchester by the Sea and,while there are other factors,doesn't seem to be in the conversation as to why The Big Sick isn't doing very well this awards season.

January 4,2018 | Unregistered CommenterAlex

Hong Chau is,indeed,the best thing about Downsizing.Unfortunately,she's actually in the lesser half of the film,despite her greatness.The film really should have been all about her.Her story,little of which is actually on screen,is far more interesting.

Alex - Amazon still releases their films theatrically.Netflix only technically does to qualify.

January 4,2018 | Unregistered CommenterRoger

I have read Chau confront the issue of whether her character is racist (or merely 'problematic') and I like how she explains it and I agree.There's something to be said about how people immediately lept to Ngoc being a racist stereotype as if - as Chau herself has said - people like her own parents don't deserve to be portrayed on screen.Her character grew up in Vietnam and was illegally sent to the US and been there for only a relatively short time.It makes sense that her character doesn't speak perfect English.And,again as Chau has said,just because she speaks in broken english,that doesn't make her character any less worthy of being given screentime (in this movie or any other) and doesn't take away from the many layers and dimensions of her character.Ngoc is the best written character in the film,easily - the one scene of hers I felt pushed itself too far was the "fuck"scene - and that isn't erased just because she talks in a way that makes people eager to not offend anyone uncomfortable.

Anyway,I think the movie is much better than the consensus and if Chau were to be nominated it'd be great for many reasons.a) she's actually very good,b) nominations for Asian performers are so rare,and c) the Academy is at its best when it is acknowledging that great acting can come from anywhere,not just Best Picture nominees (which is becoming more and more the case;or at least all from typical prestige fare).

January 4,2018 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn Dunks

I haven't seen "Downsizing",but have read lots of good things about Hong Chou.I wish her well,and hope for more interesting parts for her in the future.

My personal list for best supporting nominations so far would be:
- Beanie Feldstein,"Ladybird"
- Betty Gabriel,"Get Out"
- Octavia Spencer,"The Shape of Water"
- Kelly Marie Tran,"Star Wars: The Last Jedi"
- and one other that I either haven't seen yet,or need time to appreciate.

January 4,2018 | Unregistered Commenteradri

Sorry,misspelling,Hong Chau

January 4,2018 | Unregistered Commenteradri

Glenn,the reception for this film has been so disheartening to me.Payne is one of my favorite directors,and most are saying he finally fell on his face.I guess I'll find out when I watch the film.Sigh.He doesn't make that many movies so this makes me sad.

January 4,2018 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

In other words: An Asian twist on Magical Negro Syndrome.How cliche.How tired.How racist.

January 4,2018 | Unregistered CommenterNewMoonSon

NewMoonSon,except that's not quite right.She helps the main character as much as he helps her.She is not a victim nor some enlightened redeemer of the protagonist.She is far more complicated.

January 5,2018 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

I honestly found her acting disturbing...

January 27,2018 | Unregistered Commenterhmm

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