Director: Nacho Vigalondo
Cast: Anne Hathaway, Jason Sudeikis, Austin Stowell, Tim Blake Nelson, Dan Stevens
MPAA Rating: (for language)
Running Time: 1:50
Release Date: 4/7/17 (limited); 4/14/17 (wider)
Review by Mark Dujsik | April 13, 2017
Writer/director Nacho Vigalondo's Colossal surprises—at first, with its central gimmick and, later, with its depiction of trivial and petty vileness transformed into a preternatural, international incident. This is a film that begins as a clever joke, only to reveal itself as a dark study of how loneliness, the mundane, a lack of fulfillment, and jealousy can turn a person into a monster. It's a smart and funny film, but it's also an unexpectedly perceptive one.
The central gag is almost too good to give away—or at least to give away this soon in a review. What can be said is that the film opens with an inspired juxtaposition that reveals the conceit, without making it explicit. The opening scene is of a little girl, searching for her lost doll in a city park. A giant monster appears, towering over the nearby buildings, and the girl's scream leads to New York City 25 years later. The shots are accompanied by Bear McCreary's score, which sounds like the musical theme for a giant monster. As the music builds to a crescendo, threatening to show the creature again, the camera instead watches as Gloria (Anne Hathaway), fumbles and half-stumbles her way into her apartment.
It's barely the afternoon, and Gloria already is noticeably drunk. Her boyfriend Tim (Dan Stevens) is in the apartment waiting for her. He can't handle her lifestyle anymore. She's a writer who has been unemployed for months and is seemingly uninterested in looking for work. Her drinking is nearly constant, and he doesn't like the person she becomes when she drinks. Tim gives her some time to pack up her things from the apartment, and he expects that Gloria will be gone by the time he comes home from work.
Her solution to sorting out her life—and finding a rent-free place to live—is to return to her small-town childhood home. Her parents have moved but haven't sold the old house yet. Despite the change of scenery, she's quickly back to her current habits, especially after she reunites with Oscar (Jason Sudeikis), whose now-deceased father ran the local country-Western bar (When Gloria asks about his mother, Oscar points out that she was there for the funeral). He has inherited the joint, and Gloria soon finds herself falling asleep in inopportune places and positions after long nights of drinking with Oscar and his gang of locals (played by Austin Stowell and Tim Blake Nelson).
The pattern seems as if it will continue indefinitely. Gloria needs a jolt of some kind to get her on the right, and it comes with the breaking news of mass destruction in Seoul. Seemingly out of nowhere, a giant monster—the one from the opening scene—has appeared, killing and injuring many, destroying buildings, and causing a worldwide panic.
Needless to say, there's a connection between Gloria and the monster. Discovering the extent, means, and specifics of that connection, though, is a process and punch line that are too enjoyable to spoil. Let's just say that Gloria feels guilty about what has happened in South Korea, and it's enough to get her to try to stop drinking—with "try" being the operative word. She has a lot for which to answer before this, and now, she has even more, even though she only tells her secret to Oscar and the gang.
The difficulty of expressing that remorse points to a running theme about communication—especially the things that go unsaid and how they can fester with inattention. At first, it's Gloria who's the focus—a directionless woman whom the film, to its credit, never attempts to psychoanalyze in any cheap way. The central metaphor here is apt, as her actions are destructive in a way that she cannot see, either because of denial about her alcoholism or the plain fact that she drinks to the point of blacking out.
As Gloria, Hathaway deftly balances a tricky line between being pitiable and being sympathetic, as well as one between clear-headed and brutal honesty. There's an inherit recognition that Gloria's problems are of her own devising, from both a need to achieve a certain level (and specific type) of success and self-sabotage when things don't go her way. There's a level of egoism here that could easily be off-putting, but Hathaway gives a performance that sees that sense of ego being chipped away in progressive steps.
On the other end of that spectrum is Sudeikis' character, who begins his part in the film as an apparent, potential love interest. Oscar comes across as the sort of scrappy and sarcastic but sentimental guy who stands in stark contrast to Tim's somewhat harsh pragmatism. At first, his motives seem pure and purely romantic enough, and there's even the distinct possibility that his attention toward Gloria is completely platonic. In a reversal to Gloria's arc, though, Oscar gradually reveals jealousy that goes far deeper than the uncertain future with a former crush. For his part, Sudeikis does his best to make the character sympathetic, especially during a scene in which we see him at his home, cluttered with junk in an attempt to fill some hole in himself.
If there's an issue with the theme of communication here, it's in the way that Vigalondo transforms the relationship and eventual conflict between Gloria and Oscar into a zero-sum game. Only one of them can win in this scenario, and while that thinking works in relation to the connection to the story of the monsters in Asia (Yes, there are more than one), it overly simplifies the human story of Colossal. Then again, the fact that the film convincingly extracts this human story from a high-concept joke is its biggest, most impressive surprise.
Copyright © 2017 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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