Colossal is not what you expect. If you saw the trailer and went into this thinking it’s a low fantasy, summertime romp as Anne Hathaway controls a monster and saves the world, then you’d be stupendously wrong. But if you can look past the 30-story romcom monster, then you’ll find a surprising, funny, and pointed message about gender relations (and several meandering ones about a bunch of other things).
The setup is fairly benign, Garden State-level stuff. Gloria (Hathaway) is kicked out of her New York apartment by her boyfriend Tim (Dan Stevens) not specifically for being perennially unemployed but more for getting hammered every night and being hungover every day and shirking every responsibility and obligation. Her only course of action is to move back to her Middle America hometown, where she immediately runs into her childhood friend Oscar (Jason Sudeikis) and begins her pattern of drinking and passing out anew.
Bonus for moving back, though: a monster is now terrorizing Seoul, South Korea. Unfortunately for you and me, we already know that it’s Gloria. The movie takes a bit longer to get there, and while writer/director Nacho Vigalondo is effective at making it suspenseful, the first act of the movie is lethargic. It feels like a rehash of a lot of different movies all put into one, and none of it is working particularly well.
To be fair, everyone involved does a bang-up job of selling it all. Hathaway is charming while being believably shiftless, though her general discombobulation can come across as saccharine every so often, especially as she tries to schmooze the various people in her life. And Sudeikis continues to be maximum Sudeikis, which says a lot when he has to sell the idea that being the owner of a barely profitable bar is the Daddy Warbucks dream compared to failing to inflate an air mattress.
Once the film does it’s critical turn, however, it reaaaally starts to get up and go. And it super not in the direction you would expect. Even as it first shows it’s colors of being a deep and fairly dark relationship drama, it’s hard to believe that’s the turn it takes. Between Tim, Oscar, and Oscar’s friend Joel (Austin Stowell), there are a lot of relationships to pick from to make it complicated.
This compounds in a beautiful if grotesque contrast of Gloria finally finding some semblance of meaningful control in being this ephemeral Godzilla-like amongst a blackout lifestyle where she loses her stability in New York and somehow is beset on all sides by home furnishing from an overly generous man. It pushes and pulls her in interesting ways as her emotional culpability finally catches up to her desire to live devoid of consequences with monstrous enormity.
It all centers around the idea that whether purposefully or incidentally, the men of Gloria’s life try to puppet her around. Get her to stop drinking, push her into the “right” career, tell her what to remember and what to forget. It’s a sobering simulacrum of many women’s lives. Well, up until the kaiju get involved, but even then, what could be more a manifestation of the emotional and societal response than to become a force of nature the world must reckon with.
One of the men then turns maliciously and intentionally abusive, forcing her intimacy in ways that recalls the disturbing and unflinching story of the first season of Jessica Jones. I won’t say who because it’s rather incredible and honestly a villainous turn that won’t be forgotten, but as Gloria ends up pulled between two manipulative relationships, you know you want to root for her but you don’t know what it is you want her to do, and it’s an impeccable and imprecise sensation that lends great emotional heft to the conclusion.
And that’s a damn good thing because the ending doesn’t make a lot of logical sense. If the emotional payoff wasn’t there, it would be 30 minutes of rock solid eye-rolling. And that’s as it sheds off several other ancillary and perfunctory threads like Joel and Garth (Tim Blake Nelson) and some vague theme about how humans in general are monsters and something else about perseverance, I guess? But the hour of investment you put into it gets you some damn fine returns by the end.
Characterizations are sometimes a mess where no one is all that likable or learns all that much, and there’s an irresponsible disregard for human life by the film itself that crops up too often when it eventually becomes a large plot point. But Vigalondo nails the relationship drama, and the actors—including the support from Nelson, Stowell, and Stevens—deliver everything their characters need and more to make it all work. If you can deal with some kaiju-level disorientation, then you will find something of a treat in Colossal.
Final Score: 8 out of 10