Article by: Josh Bradley
I have a feeling Spanish writer/director Nacho Vigalondo used to color outside the lines when he was a child.
What is genre if not a guiding line within which to tell your story? And Mr. Vigalondo has no use for such confines in his new film, Colossal (2017), a quasi-monster movie wrapped in a quasi-comedy wrapped in an addiction movie wrapped in…other things.
Out of work, freshly broken-up with, and out of control with her drinking, Gloria (Anne Hathaway) moves back upstate to her small ho-hum hometown with her tail between her legs to try to piece her life back together. There, she runs into her childhood friend, Oscar (Jason Sudeikis), who owns the local bar and offers Gloria a job and a friendship.
Does that sound like the set up of a warm-hearted romantic comedy? Good.
After a bender with Oscar and his two friends (Austin Stowell and Tim Blake Nelson), Gloria wakes up to news that a giant skyscraper-sized humanoid monster has appeared in Seoul, South Korea, only to inexplicably disappear after a few minutes of havoc. When it reappears the next night, much to her dismay and confusion, Gloria begins to piece together an inexplicable connection she has with the monster.
Are you now confused as to what kind of movie we’re in? Good. We’re still in the first half hour.
A good movie review should give just enough of a plot summary to convey what exactly the movie is, but doing so here would spoil the fun. Just the fact that what’s described above apparently isn’t enough to adequately set up the story should itself be very telling.
Despite having several scenes straight out of a kaiju movie, I’m comfortable saying that Colossal isn’t a monster movie (at least not in the traditional sense). The Seoul destruction scenes mostly serve as a rather literal metaphor of the destruction that alcoholism creates not just for the alcoholic but also for those in her immediate wake. Yes, it’s a little on-the-nose, but the monster scenes become an allegory for some more subtle things later on. Before it’s all said and done, the movie becomes a reflection on resentment and outgrowing (or not outgrowing) your hometown and at times a commentary on gender dynamics and abusive relationships, both physical and emotional.
Tone is a tricky monster (no pun intended). Alongside his shirking of genre, Vigolada navigates these happenings with a lighter tone than he has any business using for an allegorical monster movie about an alcoholic (to say nothing of the other dark story elements). While I imagine this won’t be the case for every viewer, it worked for me. Using a mostly comedic tone to explore mostly shit-serious subject matter proves effective in this case, and, impossibly, one word I’d use to describe Colossal is “fun”.
This tonal tightrope goes beyond the screenplay and requires a lot from the performances as well. Anne Hathaway is brilliant as usual, but the real surprise is Jason Sudeikis. I’ve loved his comedic work for years — and his comedic shops shine when appropriate here — but his turn in the darker elements is one of the best parts of the movie. I wish I could say more, but again, that would ruin the fun.
The problem with reviewing a movie that contains so many surprising turns is that I’m handcuffed by what I can talk about. Suffice to say, Colossal is endlessly creative and genre-bending with great performances and surprising depth.