Imagine an intense character-based drama, hilarious comedy, and giant monster epic. They are all Colossal, a wonderful movie from writer/director Nacho Vigalondo that’s as unique as its directors name. Following Gloria (Anne Hathaway) an unemployed alcoholic forced to moves back to her upstate New York hometown, Colossal follows in the smaller footsteps of movies like Shaun of The Dead, whose big genre hook sails perfectly in sync with a surprisingly meaningful, surprisingly ambiguous exploration of how people hurt themselves and those around them.
At the center is Gloria, whose alcoholism and seeming irresponsibility are clearly destructive to everyone around her. But contrary to what her ex Tim (the increasingly-everywhere Dan Stevens) implies when he kicks her out, they’re not totally her fault—unemployment, depression, and addiction are monsters of their own. Kind of literally. While Gloria is living in an empty house and reconnecting with her childhood friend Oscar (Jason Sudeikis), a giant monster attacks Seoul. While she’s drunk. She eventually discovers that if she stands in a playground by her house at 8:05 A.M. in the morning, the monster will appear, and mirror her movements exactly.
The central metaphor here is simple at first: Gloria’s drunkenness is causing collateral damage to others. Yet things don’t exactly continue how you’d expect. Working at Oscar’s bar, Gloria continues to drink through the night with his townie crew (Austin Stowell and Tim Blake Nelson), while figuring out what to do about the whole giant monster situation. Oscar seems to have some romantic interest in her, but it could just be his complicated feelings about her making it out of the town, and Sudeikis is great at throwing your sympathies around to keep you guessing.
Colossal is one of those rare movies where you can’t really predict what will happen, so I won’t take that pleasure away from you. The monster sections run the gamut of emotions as much as the human sections, for reasons that develop with way more complexity and ambiguity than most movies of any genre try for. For example, a lesser film might paint Tim as the concerned ex who Gloria should listen to, but Colossal manages to both acknowledge the validity of his concerns and that the way he gets angry about it isn’t just unfair, but verging on emotional abuse. Hathaway is great at channeling this ambiguity as a lead, using her general likability to cover how she has to hold her own beliefs with similar contradictions, like whether she’s a screw up, victim of circumstances, both, or something else entirely.
It’s impressive how easy it is go on and on about all the character nuance in Colossal, and even more so when you remember all the equally great giant monster-based material Colossal also has. Just know that those won’t let you down either; it may not match Pacific Rim, but whatever the small budget here is, it’s been magically stretched to make for some great, anime-esque monster moments that would stand out even among purely kaiju films. That they’re not just grafted on but integral pieces of the larger (or is it smaller?) story makes them all the better. Despite its sci fi core, the movie Colossal reminds me of the most would be a funnier version of Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody’s dramedy Young Adult. Only this time, the monsters are real.
Review by Charlie Heller, exclusive to LAWestMedia.com
Images from official website for Colossal