Alexander Payne’s Downsizing premiered this morning at the Venice Film Festival and while the film itself is a polarizing, un-even story, it boasts a powerful, touching and funny performance by Hong Chau who plays an immigrant and activist who protests the Vietnamese government’s acts against her small village and ends up shrunken and placed in a TV set at a Target store in Omaha. Though not being featured in the first half of the film, Chau brings so much energy, charm and strong moments that elevate the film’s muddled second half.
Can she really buck the trend and become the first Asian actress to get a Supporting Actress nom in the last few years?
Technically, Hailee Steinfeld, whose grandmother is Filipino did get a nom in 2010 for her work in True Grit so Chau wouldn’t be looking at breaking a 10-year record but could be the first Asian actress to earn a nom in the last 7 years. The last Asian actress to earn a nom before that was Rinko Kikuchi for her silent but powerful turn as Chieko Wataya in Babel (2006). In fact if we look at the entire history of the Academy Awards, only 5 Asian actresses earned nods in the Supporting category – with Miyoshi Umeki being the first back in 1957 for her role in Sayonara.
Chau has two strong “Oscar clips” in Downsizing. In the first, she tells Christoph Waltz and Matt Damon about her experience losing her leg and dreaming to meet the Norwegian scientist who was behind the concept of human shrinking. In the second, towards the end of the film, she confronts Matt Damon to clarify a key plot point that’s integral to her character. In both scenes, she does something special – she manages to move from a comic playful tone to a more serious, somber and very touching one in the same scene. Her character itself manages satire and sincerity and is able to be both hilarious and affecting.
In terms of Oscar chances, Chau is the film’s strongest chance at an acting nomination – and given the Academy’s recent push to diversify its membership base, Chau could see a boost. But regardless of her origin, she is deserving of a nod thanks to her impeccable turn as Ms. Tran (or as she’s more frequently called in the movie Ngoc Lan) – an immigrant whose life was shattered, whose sister dies in a merciless prison and who loses her leg but somehow finds a way to lift herself up and those around her.
She’s definitely a one to watch during the 2018 Oscar race.