Director: Nacho Vigalondo
Starring: Anne Hathaway, Jason Sudeikis, Dan Stevens, Austin Stowell, Tim Blake Nelson
Running Time: 110 min.
★★★ ½ (out of ★★★★)
**Spoiler Warning: This review gives away some plot details**
If judged entirely by its trailers and commercials, it's easy to fall into the trap that there isn't anything all that different about Colossal, and once you set aside a fairly unusual narrative hook, there's only one direction for it to go. That at best it could result in a reasonably satisfying and entertaining diversion headlined by two likable enough actors most recognized for lighter, more mainstream fare. One of them is a major star so there's that. Marketed as a sci-fi romcom of sorts, the genre-bending film never stood much of a chance catching box office fire since those rarely tend to work and audiences know it. But now after seeing what this actually is, I get it. Nothing about this is even the slightest bit safe or diverting. And anyone who has viewed it can't say much without the benefit of spoilers.
Those, among many other factors, was cause enough for Colossal to flop hard. Not to mention the fact no one goes to the movies anymore unless it's to see superheroes, which this draws some sort of strange inspiration from. And as much as I'd prefer to avoid categorizing as that, there's no escaping its influence. The main difference here is that writer/director Nacho Vigalondo doesn't feel the need to advertise the fact he's sliding one in there and have the movie high-five itself in celebration of the script's subversiveness, like M. Night Shyamalan did at the end of the otherwise brilliant Split. He knows to let the audience read this as they may and trusts them to intelligently interpret his ideas how they see fit.
Scene-to-scene there's a genuine sense of danger and unpredictability surrounding the actions of the film's main characters, and what they'll do or say in reaction to an oddball situation we've never seen depicted on screen before. At least not exactly. And this scenario couldn't be more ridiculous. It's catnip for a silly romantic fantasy if Vigalondo wanted to go there. For a little bit, it looks like he will, until completely pulling the rug out, exploring issues related to alcoholism, the internet, bullying, and how childhood experiences shape who we eventually become.
Vigalondo never wavers, and when things get very bleak and surprisingly deep, the material still retains its darkly comic tone, while providing Anne Hathaway the opportunity to give her most emotionally naked and vulnerable performance since Rachel Getting Married. Being John Malkovich and Adaptation meets Godzilla and Unbreakable in what could not only be described as 2017's most original release thus far, but possibly its best and least problem-ridden. And that's no small feat considering all it attempts.
Gloria (Hathaway) is unemployed writer and functioning alcoholic who's been crashing at her boyfriend Tim's (Dan Stevens) New York City apartment until she finds work. Only she isn't really looking, spending her nights out partying with friends while spending most of the following day trying to sober up. Losing patience, Tim kicks her out, forcing Gloria to move back to her New Hampshire hometown, temporarily taking up residence in her parents' vacant house. But a reunion with childhood friend Oscar (Jason Sudeikis), leads her to take a job working at his late dad's bar, which he now owns.
As late nights at the bar with Oscar and his friends worsen Gloria's drinking problem, she wanders to a children's playground and passes out, eventually waking up the next morning to tragic news of a giant, Godzilla-like reptilian monster attack in Seoul, South Korea that's killed and injured many. After noticing the monster's mannerisms and retracing her steps, it's clear that her presence at the playground at 8:30 a.m. causes this creature to emerge halfway across the globe, making movements that directly correspond to her own. Upon realizing she's unintentionally controlling an inexplicable terror, she enlists her new friends in a quest to take matters into her own hands, possibly preventing further casualties. But as her friendship with Oscar grows, so too does her desire to know the creature's purpose and its mysterious link to her own childhood.
Considering its set-up, you could definitely envision a cookie-cutter version of this that plays out like your typical romantic comedy, where the female protagonist returns home to straighten out her life and romantically reconnect with a childhood friend. Think Sweet Home Alabama, only with a giant monster thrown in. And as strange as it seems, there are few signs pointing in any other direction early on. The introduction of this monster element undoubtedly sets it apart, but it's understandably played for laughs at first, giving few hints at the depth and complexity to follow.
From the start, the movie has more on its mind than you'd think since Gloria's too much of a wreck to make for an entirely likable romantic lead, the humor is dark and cutting, and the character of Oscar is as equally messed up as her. And even when he's right, her current boyfriend, Tim, can't help but come off as a nagging, judgmental jerk. Then it happens. A crucial incident that takes the story down a completely unexpected, thrilling path from which there's thankfully no retreat. No one is who we think they are, the creature plot doesn't exist for the reasons we believe it does and the relationship between Gloria and Oscar is both more and less complicated than we thought.
There's this added element involving Gloria's past, shown in snippets of flashback that pay off in a major way. While watching, you never get that sickeningly frequent vibe that the project was conceived in a boardroom with a group of studio executives trying to determine "what sells." Vigalondo seems to be working in direct opposition to that, not for shock value, but because the narrative calls for it and its true to the tone and characters. Making few concessions in executing his twisted vision, all the creative choices cause reassessment of everything that came before, inducing in viewers the realization that what they were watching was more nuanced and substantial than initially suspected.
As if we needed a reminder of how good Hathaway is at playing flawed people going through real, relatable problems, this serves as one. The situation Gloria finds herself in may be extraordinary, but she makes sure the character isn't. This only makes the victory she eventually earns that much sweeter. But there's nothing simple about what Hathaway does, or how she gets inside the head of this damaged woman and manages to keep pace with the script's many shifts that call upon her to express various stages of depression, self-loathing and elation. That she manages all this while remaining consistently funny serves to only further highlight the full spectrum of her abilities. It's been a while since she's been this good, if only because the material hasn't let her take the risks she's afforded here.
While everyone's been trying to make Jason Sudeikis "happen" for a while now, after what's seemed like an endless string of forgettable comedies, he finally happens, shedding the goofiness to not only display an edge well-suited for leading man status opposite Hathaway, but a natural instinct for more dramatic material thought to be far outside his comfort zone. When talking about the unpredictability of the film, you may as well be referring to everything Sudeikis says and does, constantly keeping us on guard as to what Oscar's true motivations are. It's a difficult role, and he rises to the occasion, forcing those familiar with his comedic work to reassess what they assumed of him as an actor.
It's hard to miss the irony in Hathaway starring as a character who's actions unwittingly draw the ire of legions of internet trolls across the world. On top of everything else, there's that meta aspect at play in a story that very much works as one giant, or colossal, metaphor itself, as all of Gloria's demons manifest itself as this creature. The ending is surprisingly moving, mainly because it's accompanied by an infrequently delivered message in movies: That sometimes you just have to tune out the noise, dig deep and do it yourself. No one will help you. You're on your own. For this character, the realization is a breakthrough that's been hard earned, culminating in a brutally honest final scene that's just simply perfect. You can almost literally hear the sound of the book closing on this chapter of her story, with the knowledge that she's now the architect of her own future, wherever she chooses to take it.