By Nathan Evans
Spanish director Nacho Vigalondo’s latest film, ‘Colossal’, is a difficult film to review without spoiling. Between the internet and today’s overly aggressive film marketing campaigns, it seems almost impossible to go into a film without having prior knowledge of every major beat beforehand. ‘Colossal’ is a film that’s just small enough to have avoided this trap, so I’m going to do my part to keep it that way, but if any of the points in this review feel vague, know that it’s in the interest of preserving the pleasant surprise that is ‘Colossal’.
The film stars Anne Hathaway as a woman named Gloria. Gloria is an alcoholic blogger shacked up with her beleaguered boyfriend, Tim (‘Legion’s’ Dan Stevens), in a high rise apartment in New York City. Fed up with Gloria’s constant drinking, Tim kicks her out of the apartment, forcing Gloria to return to her hometown penniless and alone. “Renting” her childhood home from her parents, Gloria sets about figuring out her next move when she bumps into childhood friend, Oscar, portrayed by Jason Sudeikis. Oscar, a bit over eager to get close to Gloria, offers her a job at the bar he inherited from his father. With no other options, Gloria accepts, and it’s not long before she finds herself back to her usual behavior: drinking all night, walking home hungover the next day, then sleeping all morning to repeat the process the next night.
The plot thickens when Gloria wakes up one day to discover a giant, Godzilla-like monster has materialized to terrorize Seoul, South Korea. Through some clever plot machinations, it’s not long before Gloria realizes that the monster only appears when she’s hungover and walking home through the park she frequented as a child. She soon discovers that these instances are more than coincidental: she’s controlling the monster.
From there the movie takes a few twists and turns that I won’t touch on, but I will say they’re just as clever and inventive as the film’s premise. The film in general is one of the most original creations I’ve seen in a long time. While Vigalondo obviously leans into some classic creature feature iconography, how he gets to it and what he does with it is entirely new. In addition to that, he pulls off what most modern sci-fi/fantasy films aren’t concerned with: he uses the trappings of his genre to make a statement about a societal ill.
To deliver this statement, Vigalondo employs a tremendous cast; a cast I’m honestly shocked he was able to wrangle for a film this size. Anne Hathaway turns in one of the most interesting performances of her career here. It goes without saying that she’s great— she’s always great, but she does something new with this film. While she had already shattered many preconceived notions about what she was capable of with her turns in ‘Les Miserables’, ‘Havoc’, and ‘Brokeback Mountain’, she stretches in yet another direction as Gloria. Gloria is a drunken, promiscuous, wreck of a person. Hathaway manages to get all of this across while maintaining a sense of levity throughout.
Complimenting Hathaway is Sudeikis. He carries more of the film than I thought he would and he does a fantastic job. Until this point he’s almost exclusively functioned as a sort of Bill Murray-lite; always playing the roguish nice guy. His character, Oscar, certainly inhabits some of that quality, but he ultimately ends up becoming more complex than that. Sudeikis pulls that complexity off well, and I hope it will open up different kinds of roles for him in the future.
While the film’s supporting cast is just as impressive as its two leads, they ultimately end up getting short shrift. Tim Blake Nelson portrays Sudeikis’ friend Garth, but he doesn’t get much to do and is seemingly forgotten by the end of the film. Dan Stevens is also underutilized as Tim. Stevens, who is on track to become cinema’s next Gary Oldman, is a tremendous talent and his relationship to Hathaway’s character could’ve been used to explore yet another aspect of Gloria’s personality. Instead it feels like he’s just a victim of the film’s slim runtime.
Maybe it’s just the mark of a good movie, but I could’ve used more of ‘Colossal’. Clocking in at under two hours, the film breezes by. The length, in addition to cutting off the legs of the supporting cast, also underserves Vigalondo’s brilliant premise. Gloria’s connection to the monster feels under explored. Admittedly, with a plot as out there as this one, there really can’t be any line of logic that adequately explains how and why Gloria’s able to do what she does, but I feel like Vigalondo misses an opportunity to play with his own set of rules. I’m sure much of this has to do with the limitations of the film’s budget. Hopefully ‘Colossal’ will help convince a major studio to give Vigalondo a larger cash flow his next time out.
In spite of shortcomings that are most likely the result of circumstances surrounding its making, ’Colossal’ is a smart, funny, dark picture that’s about something bigger than itself. Despite its very poignant message, the film never feels like it’s preaching. The characters that inhabit it feel authentic: they’re likable and unlikable in equal measure, and more importantly, they’re always engaging. Vigalondo makes his mark here as a darker Michel Gondry. Not only can't I wait to see what he does next, but I can’t wait to go back and engage with the rest of his filmography. Having yet to do that, I feel confident in suggesting you do as well. After all, ‘Colossal’ isn’t a film that could come from a director that didn’t know what he was doing.
RATING: 4.25 OUT OF 5
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