[This is a re-post of my review from the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival. Colossal opens in limited release on Friday.]
Writing about a movie like Colossal is tough. Basically, this movie is insane. Each successive scene is different from what you expect. But given that part of its charm is the constant subversion of expectations, I’m wary of giving away too much. Suffice it to say, writer/director Nacho Vigalondo succeeds in crafting a drama about the cost and demons of alcoholism in which a giant lizard monster factors significantly into the plot. The whole movie is crazy, but it’s grounded by a pair of impressive performances from Anne Hathaway and Jason Sudeikis that go a long way towards selling the drama of the piece. And oh yeah, there’s a giant lizard monster.
The emergence of the monster is no secret. In fact, the movie opens in South Korea with the first sighting of said monster, then cuts to black and jumps in time 25 years later. Anne Hathaway plays Gloria, a young woman living in New York with her successful boyfriend (Dan Stevens) who, being out of work, spends her time partying until dawn and spending her days on the couch watching TV—much to the chagrin of her boyfriend. At the film’s onset, he’s had enough of her party-hardy ways and kicks her out, leading Gloria to seek refuge in her parents’ house in her small town outside of New York. It’s here that she reconnects with a boy from her childhood, Oscar, played with a splendid mix of charm and smarminess by Sudeikis.
Oscar owns a bar and promptly invites Gloria to join him, where he offers her a job as a waitress. Of course Gloria doesn’t remember this because she blacked out drunk during the conversation—again. Soon after her arrival, however, Gloria wakes to discover that a giant lizard monster appeared in Seoul, terrorizing the city before disappearing into thin air. It happens again the next day, only this time Gloria notices something strange about the monster’s movements—they mimic exactly her movements in a nearby park earlier, when she was fighting with her boyfriend on the phone. Indeed, Gloria soon comes to realize that when she steps foot in this particular park at a particular time, she is the giant monster terrorizing Seoul.
There’s far more to the story than that, but I’ll stop here in hopes that the film’s trailers don’t pass this point. Moreover, the drama between Gloria, Oscar, and Oscar’s bar buddies—which include memorable turns from Tim Blake Nelson and Austin Stowell, who you’ll recognize as the pilot from Steven Spielberg’s underrated Bridge of Spies—is the real heart of the film, and what makes it work.
Colossal is hilarious. Colossal is terrifying. Colossal is sad. There’s no one lane that aptly describes this particular film, and credit to Vigalondo for pulling off this incredible high-wire act throughout the movie. As I said before, it is constantly surprising—I can’t tell you the last time I watched a movie and had no idea where it was going from scene to scene. Indeed, this is the kind of movie that could go anywhere in the next scene, as Vigalondo establishes some truly absurd rules of the Colossal universe that somehow make sense. The film subverts expectations at every turn while always maintaining a focus on character, with a huge amount of credit to the performances of Hathaway and Sudeikis.
Hathaway is predictably fantastic here, handling issues of denial and alcoholism with tact, while also avoiding the pitfalls of making Gloria unlikable. She makes horrible decisions and is incredibly selfish—as an alcoholic she destroys everything around her—but thanks to a kind of sincerity that bubbles just underneath the surface, Hathaway manages to make her a protagonist worth rooting for.
Sudeikis, quite simply, gives the best performance of his career thus far. There’s an inherent dickishness to Sudeikis’ snarky charm that’s put to tremendous use here, but the actor deftly navigates the murky waters of this character and is able to hit any pitch thrown at him. Drama, comedy, even menace—Sudeikis proves in Colossal that he can adeptly handle these with ease.
It’s amazing the film works as well as it does, given the absurd places it goes. Towards the end it starts to strike out on some big swings, and when it delves into trying to unnecessarily explain some particular points of interest, it lands with a thud. And Nelson’s character disappears 2/3 of the way through the film never to be seen again, for no reason whatsoever. That said, the parts that work really work, making these stumbles a bit easier to forgive.
You’ve never really seen a movie like Colossal. It’s an alcoholism drama. It’s a dark comedy. It’s a kaiju movie. It’s all of these things in one, and thanks to a particularly fine-tuned script and a tremendous balance of tone from Vigalondo as a director, it succeeds far more than it fails. Confronting our demons is much harder than we think, especially once we realize they control us, not the other way around. Confronting these demons sometimes requires a fight, and that fight ain’t pretty. But considering the collateral damage that ensues when we don’t, confronting these demons is necessary.