Anne Hathaway fights giant robots and toxic masculinity simultaneously in this kaiju-meets-indie flick.
Spoilers ahead, this film is so strange a review would require a dedicated partial-synopsis (please find below):
Directed by Nacho Vigalondo, Colossal opens up with a darkly comic introduction of a giant Godzilla-type monster, only to cut to twenty-five years later to the more personal disaster that is Gloria (Hathaway). Gloria has a troubling dependency on alcohol and late-night partying that has brought her long-term relationship with the high-strung Tim (Dan Stevens) to the brink. Gloria is socially irresponsible but a charming liar, while Tim lectures her with parental condescension and chronic lack of sympathy. He packs her things and asks her to leave his apartment.
Gloria moves back from NYC to her hometown where she bumps into the amicable Oscar, a childhood friend from elementary school. Given the lack of contact between them for twenty-five years, Oscar’s barely-repressed attraction to Gloria comes across as pitiable but benign. He offers the jobless, loveless, and equally pitiable Gloria a job at his bar. This meet cute gives way to drunk hangouts between the two of them and Oscar’s friends, Garth (Tim Blake Nelson), and the hunky Joel (Austin Stowell).
A few days into Gloria’s return to her hometown, a gargantuan kaiju attacks Seoul for a few minutes, then disappears in a flash of lightning. It gesticulates as if it were lugging furniture the way Gloria did when she was moving back into her parent’s house. The next day, the kaiju appears again, appearing confused and scratching its head the way Gloria does as a nervous tick.
Gloria realizes that when she stands in the local park at 8:05AM, she is able to summon and control the kaiju with her body (think Nintendo Wii without the remote). She shares her discovery with her newfound friends, who display appropriate concern. But Gloria’s own cavalier attitude leads her to trip and fall, causing the kaiju to do the same and cause hundred of deaths in the process. This disaster engenders a sense of shame and consequent social responsibility in her character. Furthermore, Oscar realizes that he has a similar affliction: a giant robot materialized besides the kaiju when he entered the park to help Gloria.
Muscly Joel and Gloria sleep together, and that pushes the alcoholic and protective Oscar over the edge. He drops his nice guy veneer and lashes out at Gloria with both passive-aggressive and explicit verbal jabs. Oscar spirals out of control when he realizes he can blackmail her: If Gloria doesn’t continue to stay in town and work at his bar (and implicitly belong to him), he will go to the park every morning and make his robot avatar wreak havoc in Seoul.
End of partial synopsis.
The second half of the film follows Gloria’s attempts to nip this problem at the bud. First by reasoning and pleading with Oscar, then through brute force after it is clear he has become unhinged. Needless to say, this leads to several Robot v. Kaiju fights in the crowded streets of Seoul. Ultimately, Gloria wins because this is the kind of film which follows Hollywoodian laws of moral and poetic justice.
Hathaway nails it as Gloria. Her transition from female manchild to gutsy protagonist is seamless, due credit to Hathaway and Vigalondo here. As is Oscar’s descent from generic romcom nice guy to self-hating manipulator. Joel, Tim, Garth are likewise original portrayals of ineffectual men we rarely see in popular movie culture.
The film’s kaiju conceit is well-mined for dark humor and character development, and the director navigates multiple genres with great effect. All the same, arthouse fans may question the film’s adherence to a feel-good ending and its overall sincerity. It is this sincerity that separates Colossal from the far darker Being John Malkovich (1999) which also relied on an equally absurd conceit and a nice-guy plot twist.
All the elements for extreme innovation are here, yet Vigalondo uses his considerable skill to craft an original story that stays within the locus of mainstream propriety. The darker sexual implications of Oscar’s possessiveness, the de facto damage taking place in Seoul, and the potential extremes of Gloria’s initial self-centeredness could have all been exploited for twisted satire or sharp dramedy.
Considering these self-obsessed characters duking it out as monsters in foreign lands, Variety’s Dennis Harvey wisely suggests that Colossal could have upped the ante by critiquing American Exceptionalism and its disastrous global implications. Alas, it is a little odd that Vigalondo used such a singular conceit only to remind us that self-centered = bad, self-love and social responsibility = good, and that nice guys are not all that they seem.
Well, okay, that last one is not explored often enough in mainstream film, brownie points there my friend.