Author: Sonny Bunch
Warning: Plot points and the themes of Colossal, which haven’t really been hinted at in the trailer, are discussed below. I would recommend seeing the movie first before reading this piece. (Not that it really matters if you come back or not. Now that I’ve captured your click, what do I care?)
As I’ve noted elsewhere, the ad campaign for Colossal is a bit deceiving. Writer/director Nacho Vigalondo’s latest film has been sold as a quirky, indie, romantic-Kaiju comedy (romkaicom?) but is instead a rather dark meditation on the dangers of alcohol abuse and violence against women.
Gloria (Anne Hathaway) is something of a mess. We first see her stumbling home to her apartment one morning, having stayed out all night—her boyfriend, tired of her debauchery and lies, has packed her stuff up and told her to move out. Broke, jobless, and, now, homeless, Gloria heads out of NYC to her parents’ vacated house to shack up for a while and put her life back together.
On the literal road to recovery she’s waylaid by Oscar (Jason Sudeikis), who seems to have had a crush on her when they went to school and who now runs the town’s bar. Still smitten, he offers her a job so she can get on her feet—a kind gesture, perhaps, but not necessarily the best one for an alcoholic looking for a fresh start. Gloria blacks out again, waking up the next day to discover that, strangely, a giant monster has attacked Seoul. Even stranger, the monster seems to be mimicking some of her more unique bits of body language.
Gloria discovers that the monster only materializes when she’s in a local playground at a certain time of day and that she controls its movements—movements that have real-life impact on the ground in Korea, resulting in crushed buildings and dead people. Though a bit upset about this at first, booze soothes the beautiful beast and she makes a show of it for her friends, a drunken bit of fun that has tragic consequences on the other side of the world.
Vigolando takes a rather simple and straightforward metaphor, the monstrousness of alcoholism, and adds several layers on top of that: Colossal is not just about a drunk with a problem, it’s about mental and physical domestic abuse, as well as the evils of our name-and-shame internet and cable news cultures. As a result, the message gets slightly muddled, almost treating the real problem at the heart of Gloria and Oscar’s descent into madness—dipsomania, in all readings of the word’s various parts—as a joke in the closing moments.
I’m not one to argue that a film or a filmmaker has to push a message, necessarily, but if you’re going to make a social argument—and I think Vigolando’s metaphor about the evils of alcohol abuse is relevant and interesting and cleverly done, even if it’s a bit heavy-handed—then you should try to avoid negating said argument by turning the problem you’re critiquing into a punch line just before credits roll.
Still, I was surprised and impressed by Colossal. A lot of that has to do with Hathaway and Sudeikis, she undoubtedly channeling much of the pain from being an undeserved object of hate on the Internet, he doing his usual work as one of the more underrated funnymen in Hollywood today. Also featuring solid supporting turns from Tim Blake Nelson and Dan Stevens (who, between this, Beauty and the Beast, and Legion is all over my various screens at the moment), you won’t find a better-acted comedy this year.