Movies about giant monsters descending upon cities are a common sight, as are movies about chronic screwups trying to get their lives back on track. But if a movie has ever combined those premises before, I haven’t seen it.
Written and directed by Nacho Vigalondo, Colossal stars Anne Hathaway as a hard-drinking, unemployed thirty-something who hits rock bottom when she gets dumped. But her messy life takes an even crazier turn when she realizes that she’s somehow connected to an enormous creature that’s begun terrorizing Seoul. It’s a bizarre conceit that works against all odds, anchored by strong performances from Hathaway as Gloria and Jason Sudeikis as Oscar, Gloria’s childhood friend.
Gloria is a familiar type: the party girl who’s always up for a good time, but far less reliable when it comes to, well, anything else. She blearily stumbles home in the wee hours of the morning, full of sheepish apologies and rambling anecdotes, and relies on her charm to smooth over any broken promises or missing memories. Hathaway slips into the role with ease, making Gloria equal parts winning and frustrating. We get why Gloria’s boyfriend fell for her, but also why he decided he had to leave her.
As the film opens, Gloria’s boyfriend (Dan Stevens) has decided he’s had enough. He breaks up with her, which means she’s also been cast out of their shared apartment. With nowhere else to go, Gloria returns to her sleepy suburban hometown, where she quickly falls in with Oscar and his drinking buddies (played by Austin Stowell and Tim Blake Nelson). They drink til morning at the bar Oscar owns, and then go home and pass out so they can do it all again the next day. Colossal puts Sudeikis’ dickish charisma to great use, introducing him as a pleasant blank slate that reveals more complicated layers as the film goes on.
One afternoon, Gloria wakes up to shocking reports of a monster materializing out of thin air in Seoul, and then vanishing just as mysteriously. Soon, she realizes she and the monster are linked. How exactly they’re connected is the interesting part. The why is less interesting. Colossal‘s only major misstep is the flashbacks that reveal the origins of that strange connection. They explain either too much or not enough — in any case, the payoff isn’t very satisfying. Fortunately, they’re brief and infrequent enough that they don’t take away from the movie too much.
Colossal is a slippery movie, twisting through several different genres and tones. At some points it feels like an indie dramedy a la Drinking Buddies, or an addiction narrative like Smashed. It’s surprisingly low-key for a monster movie, and it’s got a smattering of sharp feminist commentary. That omnivorousness has its benefits and drawbacks. In the end, Colossal‘s themes aren’t as clear as they could have been and Gloria’s story doesn’t have quite as much emotional impact as it should have.
But it also makes Colossal feel unique and personal. Vigalondo’s strong vision, along with sensitive work by Hathaway and Sudeikis, ensures that Colossal never feels like anything other than completely itself. Aside from the first big twist — Gloria’s link to the monster — Colossal doesn’t really try to pull the rug out from under the audience, and yet it kept me guessing, simply because I’d never seen anything quite like it before.