What would happen if a drunken Anne Hathaway transposed herself into a giant kaiju in Korea every time she stumbled through her childhood playground in the early morning? It’s a question that literally no one was asking, and yet writer/director Nacho Vigalondo (‘Timecrimes’) went ahead and answered it anyway. The result will surely be one of the most oddball movies released in 2017 and might end up being one of the most charmingly memorable as well.
Hathaway stars as Gloria, an out of work blogger in New York who has taken to the bottle for escape. When her boyfriend (Dan Stevens) decides that he’s had enough of her drunken shenanigans, he cuts her off and kicks her out. With nowhere else to go, Gloria moves back into her empty family home in a tiny debilitating town. She thought she’d escaped this place. She was wrong. A friendly face arrives in the form of an old schoolyard chum named Oscar (Jason Sudeikis). He never left, but always followed Gloria from afar. He’s thrilled that she’s back. He also owns a bar, which is good because it means that Gloria lands a job. It’s also bad because they serve booze in bars. On one drunken walk home, Gloria stumbles through an old playground. The next morning, she learns that a giant lizard monster appeared in Seoul at the same time and made the same wobbly movements she did. She thinks there might be a connection, so she tries it again. Sure enough, same result. That monster is her. It might also be a metaphor, but not necessarily the one you’d initially expect.
The thing about Nacho Vigalondo’s bizarre new feature is that it somehow manages to subvert and contort expectations with every scene. Is it a small character movie or a giant monster movie? How about both? Is it a tale of alcoholic redemption? Maybe. Is it a rom-com? Seems that way for a bit, doesn’t it? Vigalondo is clever enough to realize that even though no one has made a “giant monster as metaphor for alcoholism” movie before, once that setup is established it’s pretty clear where it will go. So he doesn’t go there. He goes somewhere else. That monster is indeed a metaphor, just not the obvious one. The cute connection between the broken anne Hathaway and the smiley, one-linery Jason Sudeikis-type might seem like it’s heading toward a redemptive love story, but it’s really about how the trope of “that boy who never forgot you” often masks a far more common and infinitely more unsettling reality. The movie has a lot going on in addition to the big monsters kicking up a storm in Korea.
The monster effects are impressive and the designs are rather beautiful. However, Vigalondo often tosses those effects sequences off in news channel montages. The kaiju attacks are really happening, but they aren’t actually what the movie is about. The glorious visuals provide momentum and mystery while the alcoholism plot creates a seemingly clear solution that slowly melts away.
The film is a character piece. Hathaway gives her best performance since the last time she played a beautiful train wreck in ‘Rachel Getting Married’, and the expectations viewers will have from that role play in her favor. You expect her to clean up in certain ways, but the story is messier than that. She carries the movie on her back and proves that she’s all too frequently been miscast and misused in her roles since. Even so, the real revelation here isn’t Hathaway (she’s proven she’s this good before), but Jason Sudeikis. Without giving too much away, the movie plays even more on past associations with that somewhat underrated comedic actor. You think he’s playing the persona you’ve seen before, but it’s a ruse. What he’s actually playing is the real person that so many guys who act like Sudeikis are underneath the front they put on. It unfolds gradually and Sudeikis plays it perfectly. He might have a decent acting career ahead of him if enough eyeballs land on this performance.
‘Colossal’ is an oddball movie that combines sci-fi, horror, fantasy, comedy and drama in fascinating ways. It seems to shift genres and tones at will. Yet as crazy and seemingly undisciplined as the movie can seem at times, Nacho Vigalondo is always in charge. He’s shown considerable promise as a filmmaker for many years and this feels like a coming-out party. It’s a special and oddly timely film that tackles something important between all the drunken laughs and CGI monster fights. Although the magic realist comedy drama might be a little too weird for some and a little too heavy-handed for others, anyone who can sink into what the filmmaker is saying and appreciate all the bizarre and unexpected ways that he gets there will admire what Vigalondo accomplished. There’s never been a movie quite like ‘Colossal’ before and it’s unlikely there will be one quite like it again. Whether or not that’s a good thing is entirely a matter of taste. You should dig in and find out.