OnScreen Review: 'Colossal'

Ken Jones

  • OnScreen Chief Film Critic

Colossal is one of the most unique films of 2017.  It’s a film directed by Nacho Vigalondo, a man who directed Timecrimes, the 2nd best time travel movie of the 2000’s (Primer is the best, maybe ever, by the way).  From Spain, Colossal is his 2nd English language film as well.  It also stars Anne Hathaway in what may be one of her better performances.

Gloria (Hathaway) is an out of work writer who fills her days and nights with drinking and partying with friends, much to the chagrin of her boyfriend Tim (Dan Stevens), who dumps her because he is done supporting her drinking habit.  Kicked out and with no place to live in New York City, she returns to her hometown and her parent’s old, unfurnished house.  While there, she reconnects with her childhood friend Oscar (Jason Sudekis), who runs a local bar and gives her a job.  After a night of drinking with Oscar and his friends Joel (Austin Stowell) and Garth (Tim Blake Nelson), Gloria stumbles home and cuts through a playground.  Halfway across the world, a giant kaiju monster suddenly manifests in Seoul, South Korea and terrorizes the city.  Eventually, Gloria comes to the realization that her being in that playground at exactly 8:05 AM causes the monster to appear.  This startling information causes her to try to sober up and rethink her life, but when she reveals this to Oscar and his friends, it slowly leads to a dramatic change in the relationships of this group.

This film falls into that group of films that don’t fit easily into one category.  It begins as a black comedy about a woman with a drinking problem.  She gets so drunk she often falls asleep/passes out in uncomfortable positions, only to wake up to an aching body part, first her neck, then her back, and finally (and rather hilariously) her right breast.  Her drinking is progressively becoming a problem and she seems indifferent to the poor decisions she is making.  And the film portrays her and her drinking with Oscar, Joel, and Garth initially in a light and genial manner.  Clearly, though, waitressing and tending a bar is not the ideal employment for where Gloria is at in her life. 

Next, the Godzilla-like monster is thrown into the mix, appearing in Seoul and having this mysterious connection to her.  It is pretty entertaining how she stumbles into figuring out that she has a connection to the monster.  And when she reveals this to the guys, I was amused by her enjoyment at being able to control it.  However, because of her drunken clumsiness, her enjoyment of absurdity quickly turns to a sobering fear with the realization that the potential deaths of thousands of people could be on her conscience if she is not careful.  Her behavior could have catastrophic consequences for people, which causes her to reconsider her life and her drinking habits.  It’s also a not so subtle metaphor that such actions can have consequences far closer to home too in real life too.

Finally, the film adds another element, turning the story on its ear and veering into unexpected territory.  Without giving away too much of the film, much of the first half of Colossal is really a bait and switch based on the ways that mainstream Hollywood films condition the audience to expect the plot to go in a certain direction based on specific indicators.  When the pretty, down on her luck woman moves home and reconnects with the guy who was her childhood friend, we expect a certain romantic plot to play out.  But this is not a mainstream Hollywood studio film and things don’t go the Hollywood ending way. 

In fact, that the film had the fortitude to stick through with where it was going to the end made me appreciate it even more, even though it wasn’t making sense to me in the moment.  The more I thought about it, the more I realized that it’s the kind of film that probably would have been compromised and ruined by the big studio system.  The interpersonal dynamics of the relationships between Gloria, Oscar, Joel, and Garth are challenged and upended and in some ways irrevocably changed.  The film surprisingly ends up being about the real-life monsters and not the rampaging one in Seoul, South Korea.  The film surprisingly ends up being about abuse, not just the physical kind, but also the mental, verbal, and emotional kind, and finding a way to break free from it.  Also, the Spider-Man axiom of “with great power comes great responsibility” comes into play in that having power, even something as weird as this, is not something that everyone handles well.  Some people who live lives of quiet impotence should not be given immense power (Surprisingly, this film is not a metaphor about the Trump presidency).

Like Rachel Getting Married, this film gives Hathaway a chance to play a character that is atypical of most of the roles she gets.  I never understood or accepted the backlash against from when she won an Oscar a few years ago.  She is an immensely talented and versatile actress who is enjoying playing a somewhat unlikeable character here.  Nothing, though, is more atypical than the role that Sudekis is given here.  He really impresses as he gets to play against type rather than just being a purely comedic role.  It’s a much different performance than anything else he has ever done.

Colossal is not just a unique blending of film genres or the unexpected film that zigs when you think it is going to zag, it is also a pleasant surprise.  It plays with your preconceptions and creates a story that could not be made in the studio system of Hollywood.  It’s the kind of film that knows what it is, what it is about, who the characters are and why they are like that.  It takes seemingly mismatched and incongruous pieces from a few different genre types and fits them together to form a cohesive story in a style all its own.  Vigalondo is a director whose name people should keep in mind going forward, as he seems to be someone whose profile should be on the rise. 

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars