Nacho Vigalondo’s Colossal is an unconventional, and extremely enjoyable, monster movie that explores the self-destruction and collateral damage caused by a broken individual. The fact that she’s controlling a giant kaiju laying waste to a city halfway around the world only raises the stakes, be they logical, emotional, or even comedic.
Anne Hathaway plays Gloria, an unemployed alcoholic whose partying gets her dumped by boyfriend Tim (Dan Stevens). Leaving her New York apartment, she heads back to her hometown and an empty childhood home. She quickly reconnects with old schoolmate Oscar (Jason Sudeikis), eventually taking a job at his bar. Gloria’s drinking and blackouts become sobering when she realizes that her specific actions on a playground coincide with the arrival of a giant monster in Seoul, South Korea. The beast mimics her physicality; the nervous tics are funny, while her footsteps become thunderous property-damaging, life-endangering stomps in the Korean capital. The metaphor is strong with this one.
Vigalondo wonderfully blends the personal drama with the fantastical elements. A shattered soul returning home to start over and/or deal with the origins of their trauma is a customary jumping off point for many a dramedy, but this one is unique with its quirks. The parody exists even in early moments that show Gloria carrying a ridiculously large sack of baggage slung over her shoulder. She battles with the air mattress in her otherwise unfurnished home, causing hangovers to be even more uncomfortable. The literalness of what’s being represented is (successfully) played for laughs, as is the kaiju connection – at least initially.
Through the escalating mayhem, the concept never gets too big for Colossal to wrap its arms – human or monster – around, and the film remains impressively grounded within its own crazy logic. The magic is kept simple and vague, just as consequential for the psychological scars it has created than the grand-scale destruction.
The sentimental scope is also remarkable, with Gloria experiencing bewilderment, cheerfulness, fear, and dismay at what she’s wrought. It’s not unlike the temporary elation of a high, followed by the shame and regret of an addict. When Gloria finds a way to communicate to the people of Seoul through her gargantuan avatar, she shares a promise that she’s no doubt recited countless times after a boozy night filled with bad decisions. A promise that is oft broken.
Hathaway is fantastic at riding the roller coaster. Her expressive reactions are appropriately overstated to match the magnitude of the events. Sometimes the spasms are hilarious, sometimes devastating. It’s a very physical performance that’s also filled with nuance. Equally layered is Sudeikis, at first the amiable hometown guy that has an obvious crush, who then has his own hang-ups laid bare. The co-dependencies of the couple are toxic and speak to the slaying of, or succumbing to, inner demons. Tim Blake Nelson also stands out as a local barfly who adds levity and serves as somewhat of a mirror for Gloria, adding to our understanding of the main character.
There are a few hiccups in the script that make the action repetitive and a few scenes that wander – Sudeikis’ soliloquy about “the worst thing you could do in his bar” chief among them, but Colossal is an otherwise tight, engaging movie filled with creative takes and smart craft. Vigalondo and his solid cast shine a light on genuine issues in insightful, imaginative ways. The comedy and the tragedy are earned, from the very real costs of destructive actions to the cheeky final shot.