The problems that come from losing control can be intense. Substance abuse, namely alcohol in the case of Colossal, can both lead to problems and unmask deeper issues from within. That sounds pretty heavy, but fortunately for genre director Nacho Vigalondo, he’s embedded these themes within one of the more creative giant monster movies to come along recently. If Cloverfield was a romance a matched with a disaster movie, Colossal plays as a rom-com deconstruction featuring kaiju action. The results are quite enjoyable, even as the film grows darker and other questions begin to emerge.
Anne Hathaway stars as Gloria, a mess of a person whose drinking and partying ways have cost her a job, her boyfriend (Dan Stevens) and her New York City home. This leads her back to the home where she grew up in upstate New York, where she reconnects with her childhood friend Oscar (Jason Sudeikis). Oscar owns a bar and Gloria soon finds herself working there and continuing to be enabled by Oscar and his buddies (including a humorous, but underused Tim Blake Nelson). Gloria’s actions have consequences such as finding herself waking up lost around town, soar from poor lumbar support and mourning over the destruction of downtown Seoul, South Korea.
That last part may seem a bit odd, but the movie as a whole is a bit odd as well. A good half hour of character setup actually serves Colossal well in getting us into the mind of Hathaway’s character, even as she stretches to keep track of what’s going on. Once this giant monster-related element takes hold, the film plants a foot further down on its absurdity, but still tries to keep a straight face about things. That doesn’t stop Vigalondo from injecting plenty of humor into the proceedings, but the film continues to reveal more monster-sized twists that really up the ante, as well as keep you guessing.
I’ve been vague on the monster aspect, but it is a clever idea, which happens to look pretty good on from a visual effects standpoint. That said, I found the film effectively compelling based on its heavy character focus. How Gloria connects to the monster is intriguing (though I was happier having less information than the film eventually provides), but it’s looking at the film’s human-based ideas that I connected with more.
Given that Colossal is a monster movie, it is not unusual to see the themes play out fairly overtly. While there is often subtext at play, these are not generally subtle films (just look at the first and most recent Japanese Godzilla movies). Having a giant monster play as a larger-than-life metaphor for how one can spin out of control if they are not careful with how they conduct their life is neat to watch. It becomes more meaningful when we see the effects this can cause on one’s state of mind, as the realization of their actions take hold in a much larger context. But Colossal doesn’t stop there. By adding in another monster-sized factor, the film is able to also explore male dominance and the chaotic lives of drunken friends.
Colossal doesn’t hold back from exploring its ideas to a rich extent, even if some of the characters end up feeling underdeveloped. It’s largely a non-issue, as the film puts so much focus around Gloria and Hathaway delivers a terrific performance in return. While the film has fun taking a high concept and mapping out different ways to bring about comedic moments and cool concepts, Hathaway’s uncharacteristic turn does plenty to match her work in Rachel’s Getting Married. Her role here is not nearly as abrasive, but balancing deeply flawed and sympathetic is no easy task.
I only wish Sudeikis could keep up. While nailing the sort of charming sarcasm angle that makes a Sudeikis-type character likable in general, as the film shifts its tone, he doesn’t follow along with it effectively enough. That’s a shame and a bit surprising, as I’ve seen Sudeikis work with well emotional material effectively in the past (see his guest starring role on The Last Man on Earth). It doesn’t make me lose track of the film’s ideas surrounding the nature of Oscar’s nice-guy-ness and what’s different about his drinking problem, but neither the actor nor the script do enough to make this role as effective as Gloria.
There are other questions to bring up as well concerning the presence of a giant monster in Seoul, but one has to remember what Colossal is indebted to. It may have the look of a grounded feature, but it is traveling along the same road as other movies of its ilk that play off of metaphors. Realism should not be a concern in a world where crazy twists involving the presence of a rampaging kaiju makes up a major aspect of the film. Better just to enjoy the film for balancing comedy, drama and quirkiness.
It won’t work for everyone; that seems like a given. This is art house Pacific Rim, with an original voice doing what he can to tell a story that is ultimately about redemption and self-discovery. With films like this and the great Timecrimes under his belt, Vigalondo will continue to excite me with his alternative entries for popular genre movie ideas. So yeah, I found Colossal quite ingenious in how it delivered on its ideas. Hathaway provides a strong lead performance, the kaiju inclusion is fun and it keeps me pleased in between blockbuster monster movies.