Colossal Review [TIFF 2016]


Colossal is a leagues-deep creature feature that’s not actually a creature feature, but still totally is a creature features at the same time – you with me? Only Nacho Vigalondo‘s genre-defying approach could have pulled off such inner strife disguised as a spiritual Godzilla relative. Struggles with addiction are ensnared by a story about obsession – but there’s also a gigantic monster destroying Seoul, South Korea while Anne Hathaway tries to reassemble her life. Nacho’s main character has to fight her demons both internally and externally, in what’s easily one of the more ingenious monster movies in quite some time. One would say it’s a…COLOSSAL….hit! *shrugs off shame, leaves pun anyway*

Ms. Hathaway stars as Gloria, a middle-age party girl who spends her nights drunkenly navigating the NYC party scene. It’s all fun and games until her boyfriend, Tim (Dan Stevens), kicks her out. With nowhere to go, she flies back to her bumbleish hometown with only an empty family rental and an air mattress to her name. Almost immediately, she reconnects with an old local friend – Oscar (Jason Sudeikis) – who gives her a job waitressing at his bar. Gloria is making an honest attempt to get back on her feet, until she uncovers a shocking discovery – she’s unknowingly controlling a gigantic, slimy monster that keeps appearing in Seoul.

If the premise sounds silly, it’s because it is. Colossal voices this tremendous sense of humor that has more fun playing around with monsters than it does trying to scare or destroy. When Hathaway attempts to understand the monster’s connection, she projects different signals to prove her control beyond doubt. Raised arms (a perfect shot of the monster’s arms outstretching on TV, lined up with Hathaway’s paralyzed body) confirm the unthinkable, while gyrating pelvic dances taunt for show.

Nacho brings an enjoyable wackiness to the monster’s physical makeup, whose devastating actions and gargantuan size tower over even the tallest buildings – but as Hathaway tries to clean up her act, so does the monster. Have you ever seen a Godzilla enemy apologize for toppling skyscrapers? And then become an internet meme sensation? Hil-f#*king-arious.

Yet, creature generics play second-fiddle to the film’s true themes (despite what locals played by Austin Stowell and Tim Blake Nelson might theorize) – the whole “this isn’t really a creature feature” aspect.

Hathaway moves home to collect herself in solitude, licking open wounds after her online journalism career derails. Alcohol is her medicine, and while it distracts from the pain of disregard, it also leads to her monster’s most destructive appearances. As she starts accounting for her choices, sobriety leads to clearer decisions and a monster who is sympathetic to its own accidental actions. Stevens’ straight-edge Brit boyfriend demands Hathaway get help and leaves her to rebuild alone, but then just assumes relationship control when she starts showing signs of a rebound. It’s the whole “I don’t want you at your worst, only your best” argument, which is met with strength and assuredness by Hathaway’s conscious, independent self.

Yet, despite Hathaway’s charmingly irresponsible – and charismatically astonished – turn, Sudeikis steals the show through a role that’s too well-suited for his talents. Most movies pin Sudeikis as the dashing, douchey male smartass who eventually has some type of emotional epiphany, and he walks away as the wise-cracker with a heart of gold – but Nacho sees more in Sudeikis.

Instead of veering towards a path of righteousness, Sudeikis’ Oscar continues down a dark, alcoholic spiral of his own, taking over for Gloria by driving his shitty life directly into the ground. As Colossal presses on, Sudeikis drinks more, harasses Gloria more and evolves into an obsession-thriller stalker with a show-stopping ace up his sleeve. Hollywood never truly lets Sudeikis be bad, but that’s all going to change after Colossal. His inherently smug charms work so well when they’re not hiding something positive underneath, just a rotten core that’s even worse than his stinging verbal assholeishness.

The only times Colossal stumbles is in explanation, when Gloria has her “This is how it all began!” moment. As a child, walking to school, she has an incident with a school project and Oscar’s younger self, but it doesn’t add any new information that’s not already conveyed through their adult relationship/rivalry. Supernatural blasts of lightning do indeed represent some mystical force, but there’s no true enlightenment by way of revelation (8:05AM, a playground and South Korea all meld together). Nacho’s control of story is surprisingly tight for such a goofy take on city-crushing creatures, only wavering when an explanation is attempted (or how Tim Blake Nelson just disappears).

Besides this plotted hiccup, Colossal is a monstrous tale of human consequence. The focus here is on Hathaway’s Gloria, and her ability to deal with the unimaginable when she can’t even seem to complete a task as simple as inflating an air mattress. Nacho Vigalondo’s handling of South Korea’s destruction recreates everything we love about old Godzilla movies, and his handling of slapstick sensibilities only makes his monster an even bigger internet hit.

Hathaway takes a chance on her vulnerable, drunken project of a character, but becomes a larger-than-life lead once her sorta-pet manifests into the fold – not to outshine Sudeikis’ male gaze. This is a heavyweight battle between loathing and rebirth, only with an all-too-enjoyable movie-monster twist. Only Nacho could humanize the most snarly, grotesque beast imaginable, and still create a personal drama that’s hilarious, heartfelt and indulgently destructive (in more ways than one).

And that’s all without me spoiling the film’s biggest, shiniest hidden gem (a conflict steeped in socially relevant gender issues)…

Colossal Review [TIFF 2016]

Colossal is a human drama with a monstrous roar, but not without Nacho's signature brand of zaniness and a fantastic, broken turn by Hathaway.