Colossal is a film that absolutely shouldn’t work on paper but mostly does in practice. It’s not quite the film I had hoped it would be, but only because I went in with almost unrealistically high expectations, and it does come dangerously close to squandering its intriguing conceit. That said, it’s still a movie that packs a lot of fun and a few genuinely inspired concepts into its relatively brief running time.
Writer/director Nacho Vigalondo (Timecrimes, Extraterrestrial) has conflated two genres that would seem to bear absolutely no thematic overlap with this deconstructionist kaiju/rom-com hybrid, and somehow the tonal dissonance works to the story’s advantage. Our protagonist, Gloria (Anne Hathaway), a New York writer with a drinking problem — or perhaps more accurately, a drinker with a writing problem — has partied her way out of gainful employment, a long-term relationship and a cushy living situation. When boyfriend Tim (an underutilized Dan Stevens) kicks her to the curb unless she can sober up, she moves back to her now-vacant childhood home in the suburbs, where a reunion with former childhood friend and current bar owner Oscar (Jason Sudeikis) makes drying out unlikely.
However, that part of the setup is just the rom-com half of the equation. Things really get interesting when a giant monster starts wreaking havoc in Seoul, and the creature’s improbable connection to Gloria leads the movie down the path to its real purpose. Vigalondo is using kaiju tropes to make a statement on more down-to-earth monsters, but there’s a bait-and-switch at play here, too — what looks like an allegory on alcoholism, turns out to be a portrait of a woman caught between two abusive relationships with controlling yet ineffectual men. To say that she resolves this conflict in a profoundly satisfying (and distinctly funny) way would be something of an understatement.
The dynamic between Hathaway’s Gloria and Sudeikis’ Oscar is the dramatic engine that drives the narrative, and both actors prove to be more than up to the task at hand. Sudeikis is masterful once he’s allowed to let his character’s sleaze shine through, and Hathaway’s capacity for both comedic and dramatic work serves this story particularly well. Vigalondo seems to have a genuine sympathy for his characters, which is a little perplexing since none of them are particularly likable. What’s lacking in likability is made up for in relatability, however, as Hathaway and Sudeikis are able to impart a pathos to these characters through their respective charisma and charm that is a testament to their commitment to the material.
If there’s a problem with Colossal, it’s that Sudeikis’ second-act reveal as the villain of the piece leaves the narrative almost devoid of dramatic tension for its first 30 minutes, and Vigalondo’s impulse to deal with the more deep-seated problem of Gloria’s toxic relationships rather than directly address her alcoholism feels like a missed opportunity at best, a cop-out at worst. Despite these shortcomings, Colossal is a film that never ceases to be engaging and affective while breathing new life into the long-stultified kaiju genre. Rated R for language.
Opens Friday at Fine Arts Theatre.