A film review by Craig J. Koban August 21, 2017

COLOSSAL jj
 

2017, R, 110 mins.

 

Anne Hathaway as Gloria  /  Dan Stevens as Tim  /  Jason Sudeikis as Oscar  /  Agam Darshi as Ash  /  Hannah Cheramy as Young Gloria  /  Rukiya Bernard as Maggie

Written and directed by Nacho Vigalondo

 

 

Days after screening COLOSSAL I'm still struggling to process my feelings about it.   

On one hand, it's a highly inspired and remarkably novel genre mash-up that wholeheartedly defied my expectations.  It's also a film with more unbridled ambition and intrepid originality than most low budget indie fare.  On the other hand, COLOSSAL is so unrelentingly bizarre that it kind of becomes increasingly distracting as the film progresses, and the story's multiple 180 degree turn tonal shifts will instill a whiplash effect in many viewers (myself included).  

I'm usually quite outspoken about the startling lack of narrative innovation in movies these days, so I really have no business not applauding COLOSSAL's go for broke and never look back willingness to be different, but there's simply no denying that this film's one trick novelty - if I can even call it that - left me jaded and disappointed as to the quality of the whole.   

I mean, where do I even begin when it comes to describing this film in a nutshell?  Let's just say this: It contains the accoutrements of a massive Godzilla-esque monster flick (it literally has a skyscraper sized kaiiu decimating Seoul, South Korea) and is also a romantic/recovery dramedy about a couple of deeply damaged and lost Americans that engage in mental and physical battles against one another while sharing a very special tie to the monster from overseas.  That's ostensibly it.  Part monster film, part observational character drama, and part dark comedy, COLOSSAL can't be accused of being a derivative effort for writer/director Nacho Vigalondo, but I can comfortably accuse it of running out of momentum and gas as its draws itself towards an ape-shit crazy climax, not to mention that, at times, the film seems to have a bipolar sense of cohesion.  It ultimately tries, to its credit, to be many different things, but to its discredit it stumbles at successfully homogenizing them all. 

 

 

On one big positive, COLOSSAL does make up for its stylistic indiscretions by being a strong performance showcase for its lead stars, especially Anne Hathaway, who plays a character here that teeters between offbeat and goofy charm and being so toxically dislikeable that you have to kind of remind yourself that she's the main protagonist here.  She plays Gloria, a depressed, down-on-her-luck, and unemployed alcoholic whose partying ways and reckless disregard for anyone else's feelings have gotten her into trouble with her frustrated boyfriend Tim (Dan Stevens) .  Having absolutely enough of her erratic and self-damaging behavior, he decides to end his relationship with her and sends her packing out of his posh New York City apartment.  With absolutely no other options in The Big Apple, Gloria decides to return back home to small town Middle America with her tail between her legs. 

When she makes it back home she crashes at her parent's abandoned home, which she very quickly furnishes with essentials...like a bottle of booze and an inflatable mattress.  One fateful days she reconnects with an old friend in Oscar (Jason Sudeikis), who rather coincidentally owns and operates a local bar in town.  After one particular drunken night of carelessness with Oscar and his two buddies (Tim Blake Nelson and Austin Stowell), Gloria returns back home to shockingly discover that an enormous lizard-like creature is destroying Seoul.   

Now, here's where COLOSSAL gets really, really weird. 

Through a fluke discovery, Gloria realizes that she's actually able to control the creature when she walks through a specific playground at exactly 8:05 am.  And when it comes to control I mean everything...whether it be manipulating the beast's hands and legs or willingness to engage in a bit of impromptu dancing.  What then transpires is Gloria frantically trying to pick up the pieces of her messed up life while accidentally controlling the monster as it lays Seoul to wasted pieces.  To complicate things even worse, she begins to have a massive conflict of interest with Oscar, who begins to demonstrate odious behavior directed at her in more ways than one. 

Again, COLOSSAL deserves serious props for never once going down a predictable and browbeaten path for its slapped together material, seeing as there's never really been another film quite like it.  In many respects, I think that Vigalondo is using his emotionally damaged characters and the vitriolic spite that they level at one another as a commentary on both character dramedies and monster thrillers.  The film comes close to psychological depth in the way that it juxtaposes the city spanning destruction that the monster is unleashing thousands of miles away with the type of small scale damage that Oscar and Gloria are levying on each other.  Both Gloria and Oscar are waging war on their own respective personal demons while growing to understand the larger issues of personal responsibility and the unfathomable power that Gloria has (imagine being clinically depressed and then realizing that you may have accidentally killed thousands of people across the world because you physically possess an unstoppable force of terror).  Adding to the thematic depth is the whole misogynistic narcissism of Oscar's character, who slowly begins to feel that he can manipulate and control Gloria simply because he feels he has a right to.   

Considering its out there premise, it's pretty inspiring to witness both Hathaway and Sudeikis utterly own their respectful characters without any semblance of over-simplification or sugar-coating them with their thanklessly grounded performances.   Hathaway deserves top marks for understanding that she's in a crazy film, but never settles for making Gloria a one-note loud mouthed caricature and buffoon.  Hathaway is one of the rare kind of talented on-screen beauties that's unafraid of playing morose people that come close to spiritual implosion.  Sudeikis, on the other hand, may have the thorniest performance challenge in the sense that he essentially begins the film in a de facto role of comic relief, but then Oscar becomes a fairly venomous and angry force that brings out a side of the actor that I didn't know he was capable of tapping into.  The tandem of Hathaway and Sudeikis, through nearly every waking minute of COLOSSAL, dramatically elevates the material beyond its beyond wacky veneer.   

Vigalondo as well deserves acknowledgement for sticking to his directorial guns by making a uniquely bizarre movie without any semblance of hesitation or apology: he simply goes for it.  There are times, though, when it felt like COLOSSAL was trying to be one kind of film with him in the director's chair and then a different one than with Sudiekis and Hathaway in front of the camera.   I think it's a case of actors layering their characters with more sobering depth than perhaps what was on the written page.  To be fair, the film's hostile gender politics hit their intended thematic marks, not to mention that the whole monster angle gives the proceedings an added dreamlike aura that would have easily found a place on an episode of THE TWILIGHT ZONE.  Yet, when all is said and done and despite the fine lead actors at the top of their game and a premise that flips the bird at multiple genre troupes, COLOSSAL emerges as more of a curiosity piece than a film that struck a meaningful and lasting chord with me.  I felt less inclined to follow this film's wavelength as it progressed along, and by the time the film concluded I was more exhausted than entertained by it all.  

COLOSSAL maintains an unwavering desire to harness all of its absurdity, but I think it stumbles on consistent execution.  Yet, Vigalondo is a fiendishly crafty director that deserves to be watched going forward...and I have no idea what places he'll go to for his next film after this.  And that's kind of exciting. 

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