An at-times uneasy mix between a mega monster movie with an indie coming-of-age tale, Nacho Vigalondo’s genre-jumping Colossal defies easy description. It’s an offbeat, inventive, and uneven movie that nestles uncomfortable truths and earnestness among its giant kaiju fights. The premise alone is appealing, if only to see how Spanish-born writer/director Nacho Vigalondo (Time Crimes) can marry together his disparate ideas.
Anne Hathaway stars as Gloria, a hard-drinking New Yorker who’s keen to keep the party going at all costs despite the exasperation of her straight-laced boyfriend Tim (Dan Stevens). At his wits’ end, Tim kicks the jobless Gloria to the curb until she can clean up her act. Broke and with few other options, Gloria retreats to her upstate hometown to hide out and regroup.
Once there she reconnects with childhood pal Oscar (Jason Sudeikis) and they bond over their mutual love of beer and late nights. As Gloria’s blackouts grow more severe, it becomes clear that recent catastrophic events in Seoul, South Korea involving a rampaging monster highly reminiscent of Godzilla (to the point that Colossal was sued by Godzilla producers Toho) are related to her life, even as it takes her a while to figure out the exact connection.
I’m being intentionally vague here to preserve the film’s secrets, although once the connection is revealed Colossal plays it mostly straight after that with the exception of an exceedingly dumb origin story. The gist is that the movie traffics in some strong themes that are more akin to indie navel-gazing than giant lizards smashing buildings.
Gloria is a severely troubled woman who can make light of her situation in the moment until she gets drunk again and goes about burning every last bridge in her life. The movie engages heavily with the idea of accountability and how people can pay lip service to change but not achieve it, often at great expense.
Hathaway is convincing as Gloria, creating a character who you want to root for even as she continually fucks up. Having straddled both the blockbuster and independent film worlds, Hathaway’s also uniquely suited to a role like this. Jason Sudeikis puts his signature charm to good use here as the outwardly fun Oscar whose happy-go-lucky attitude and inability to evolve beyond high school curdle into darker areas once his true self is revealed.
And that’s where Colossal gets truly interesting as it examines abusive relationships between a circle of friends who are conversely addicts and enablers, unable to break out of their destructive patterns. That it mixes it all with fights between 20-story monsters and robots is merely icing on the cake of this strange and endearing movie.
Colossal is not without hiccups, like some head-smacking plot holes. If the monster returns to the same four-block radius in Seoul each time wouldn’t they just evacuate that area permanently until the danger has passed? And some sub-plots with Oscar’s hard luck pals don’t really wind up anywhere despite lived-in performances from Tim Blake Nelson and Austin Sowell.
At nearly two hours Colossal feels overlong at times, especially in its back half that retreads some of the same narrative ground a few times before heading towards its climactic battle. The film’s nearly unclassifiable though, depicting self-actualization through monster fisticuffs. Due credit to Vigalondo (and Hathaway, who helped to get it financed) for coming up with a concept so left-of-centre that it feels like little else out there. A clear influence and an unfairly high bar, Being John Malkovich‘s shadow looms large over Colossal which at the very least puts it in good company.
Colossal (release date TBD)
Directed by Nacho Vigalondo
Runtime: 110 minutes