Cast: Anne Hathaway, Jason Sudeikis, Dan Stevens, Tim Blake Nelson, Austin Stowell
Director: Nacho Vigalondo
Running time: 1 hour 49 minutes
by Jericho Cerrona
There's something about writer-director Nacho Vigalondo's films which both insist upon their artificiality while also attempting to upend genre expectations. For example, his 2007 debut Timecrimes is a nifty time-travel thriller whose narrative loops back in on itself, but the picture's true intention seems to be a commentary on the leering male gaze. 2011's Extraterrestrial, meanwhile, featured an alien invasion as the backdrop for a deft romantic comedy which explored domestic tensions. The filmmaker's latest, Colossal, is his most loopy and ambitious effort yet; a character study about an alcoholic writer who finds herself somehow telepathically linked to a rampaging monster wrecking havoc in Seoul, South Korea. In true Vigalondo fashion, the film's real interest lies in not only the perils of alcoholism, but also how entitlement and male rage can manifest itself in a country where we only care about what's happening directly in our small sphere of influence.
Anne Hathaway stars as Gloria, who in the opening scene stumbles into the swanky New York apartment apartment of her boyfriend, Tim (Dan Stevens) after a night of boozing. An argument ensues, one which the couple has had countless times, and Gloria is literally sent packing. Relocating to her tiny hometown and reconnecting with her childhood friend, Oscar (Jason Sudeikis) who gives her a job tending his local bar, Gloria seems to be on the road of recovery after hitting bottom. What initially transpires is a goofy comic drama about moving back home, rekindling friendships, and finding oneself, set against the backdrop of a monstrous kaiju laying waste to skyscrapers and innocent bystanders across the globe. Vigalondo's handling of tone is admirable, if scattershot, as he tries investigating privilege, entitlement, and in the case of Sudeiki's initially charming bar owner, raging male ego while also giving us visions of crumbling buildings and giant monster attacks. It's a ridiculous premise; one that involves Gloria stepping onto a small patch of earth located on an empty playground where she can telepathically control the creature's movements. Once Oscar realizes that he too can summon his own monster (visualized as a gigantic glowing robot), the film shifts into the realm of psychodrama wherein Gloria must not only contend with the damage she's caused in Seoul while intoxicated, but also Oscar's erratic temper and possessive behavior.
Colossal eventually goes completely off the rails during the third act as Vigalondo's screenplay muddles its central metaphor under the creaking confines of magical realism. However, there's something novel about a movie boasting an original concept which asks its audience to invest themselves in characters and situations which stretch basic laws of credulity. Hathaway is a nimble performer; able to portray a woman spinning out of control without devolving into utter navel-gazing, and the way she modulates between shock, surprise, wry humor, and genuine sadness is a testament to her talents. Meanwhile, Sudeikis is cast against type as a seemingly nice guy harboring severe self-hatred issues who can unravel at any moment, and the way he flips on a dime from gee-whiz geniality to callous rage is surprisingly effective.
By using archetypal blockbuster imagery, including a slow-motion "superhero" type shot of Hathaway walking in the rain near the climax, Colossal seems to be parodying summer tent-poles while also indulging aesthetically in their simple pleasures. That the film cannot completely follow through on the promise of its audacious conceit is slightly disappointing, and there's a definite sense here that Vigalondo isn't quite skilled enough as a visual stylist to merge the fantastical with the mundane in a way which transcends the multiple genres he's juggling. Still, there's also something reassuring about a filmmaker willing to swing for the fences and a lead actor choosing to wholly trust her director's convictions. If Colossal unwisely uses throngs of screaming Korean extras as an excuse for one white woman's tale of self-rehabilitation, then it's focus on feminist concerns and exposing the sad state of male self-delusion is a welcome respite to the Michael Bay-inflected machismo found in so many Hollywood blockbusters. However, the film could have been richer and more potent had it equally considered people on the other side of the world rather than simply being consumed by entitled Americans struggling with their self-image problems.