God bless Nacho Vigalondo for avoiding the pull of the studio and continuing to make movies of his own design. Be it a localized time travel non-epic, or a film occurring entirely in real-time on a computer screen, there are simply no other filmmakers working on his level in terms of imagination. As he develops his considerable skill, it’s interesting to see how he weaves traditional narrative styles into his work. With Extraterrestrial he made a mashup of the alien invasion thriller with the “trapped in a small space” episode of a sitcom, and in doing so made a functional prelude to his latest film, Colossal.
Colossal seeks to homage and subvert both the indie romantic comedy and the kaiju film by smashing the two together. It seems impossible, but the film makes an increasingly strong case for the unholy marriage with every passing moment, slapping the face of convention and providing some decidedly bold food for thought to boot.
Anne Hathaway plays Gloria, and Gloria’s life is a mess. She’s unemployed, newly single, and perpetually hungover. After her long-time boyfriend (Dan Stevens, underused) gives her the boot from their shared apartment in the big city, she decides to spend some time back in her hometown. She moves back into her childhood house (which is inexplicably empty and available – we don’t get any information about her family life, unfortunately), and attempts to reassemble herself. She meets Oscar (Jason Sudeikis, movie stealer), an old friend who inherited the local bar from his parents and never left town. As a gesture of kindness he offers Gloria a job waiting tables which she reluctantly accepts.
Meanwhile, Seoul, Korea is under attack by a giant monster. One thing leads to another and Gloria soon finds that by being in a certain place at a certain time, she is in control of the huge beast — meaning that when she drunkenly stumbles around her local playground, thousands of people are being stomped to death in Korea. This realization understandably causes some drama, but not nearly so much as is caused by her simply finding her footing and taking control of her life. So now it’s time for a Gloria to save her soul, and in doing so, save Seoul. Ha.
What follows is a delightfully goofy and surprisingly dark rumination on interpersonal possessiveness and personal responsibility, which uses the conceit of a giant monster to represent the power that all of us wield simply by virtue of being alive. As Gloria sees her formerly destructive nature mirrored in her newfound acquaintances, she grows to understand the responsibility that comes with being a member of society. She learns that actions, no matter how small or insular, can have grand consequences.
This is what impressed me so much about Colossal. On the one hand, we get to see Gloria as a hero who stands up to the type of possessive masculinity that can rear its ugly head when favors are seen as a currency for sex and remittance. On the other hand we see her as somebody who can’t possibly play victim. Her actions, too, have consequences, and it’s not until she takes ownership of her behavior that she can truly be free.
Anymore, we get one of these themes or the other, which is a sure fire way to limit one’s audience. Colossal gives us both, offering a level of nuance so often lost in contemporary gender discourse, presented in a way that will facilitate thought rather than preach to the choir or point fingers. Also, we get to see a giant monster do silly things, which is almost too much fun. Seriously, you have not lived until you see a green fish-lizard “white girl dance.”
Hathaway is wonderful here. She could have easily played Gloria as a trope — party girl grows up — but instead she pushes deeper into Gloria than what is presumably on the page. Like I said before, we don’t learn much about who Gloria is beyond the scope of the film itself, and it’s the way that Hathaway plays each moment which gives us a window into her motivations and even her history. And if there’s anyone out there who can bring an emotional catharsis to the act of stomping around in mulch better than Hathaway, I’ve never heard of her.
Sudeikis consistently impresses me with his unlikely versatility. Without spoiling too much, I will say that we get to see a side of him in Colossal that, until now, remained untapped. It’s such a departure for him that it’s almost uncomfortable to watch … and he nails it. A scene between him, Hathaway and a booze-dulled bar regular (played with pitiable warmth by Tim Blake Nelson) simply broke my heart. It’s a supremely well-written and well-acted moment, indicative of the actors’ talent as well as Nacho Vigalondo’s skill as not just a technical craftsman, but a performance wrangler as well.
There are moments where certain things become hard to believe, and certain characters behave in ways that keep them at arms length (I’m being purposefully vague for your sake), and it’s in these moments where it becomes clear that despite his strengths, Nacho Vigalondo is a bit out of his depth narratively (which in turn only proves that he’s constantly pushing himself — a very, very good thing). But these moments are few and far between. Many filmmakers go their whole careers without tapping into such ambition and imagination, but Vigalondo is a master craftsman and an unstoppable idea machine. I hope this machine never gets turned off. Or bought.
You want to see Colossal. There’s truly nothing else like it.
Colossal opens in Philly theaters today.
Author: Dan Scully
Dan Scully is a film buff and humorist living in a tiny apartment in Philadelphia. He hosts the podcast I Like to Movie Movie and is the proud father to twin cactuses named Riggs & Murtaugh. Also, he doesn’t really mind when Batman kills people. Follow him on Twitter and Letterboxd.