Wednesday, October 25, 2017

A "Colossal" Anti-Rom-Com Monster Movie

I've been a little concerned about Anne Hathaway, who has fallen off the radar a bit since she won an Oscar and aged out of the big blockbuster ingenue roles. She's still one of our most talented, versatile performers, and I was a little surprised to see her pop up in a Nacho Vigalondo indie sci-fi/fantasy film. However, I can certainly see why she was attracted to the lead role, a complicated, juicy character named Gloria. An alcoholic writer who has been thrown out by her New Yorker boyfriend Tim (Dan Stevens), Gloria is forced to retreat to her hometown in Maine to try and get her life together, with the help of childhood buddy Oscar (Jason Sudeikis). And she soon discovers that she's psychically connected to a giant monster who keeps mysteriously appearing on the other side of the globe in Seoul, to terrorize the Korean populace.

That's right, folks. "Colossal" is simultaneously an indie relationship film about a small handful of screwed up people and a kaiju monster movie, and somehow Vigalondo manages to make both sides of the film work. The more intimate scale self-destruction and interpersonal clashes of Gloria and Oscar are given massive-scale consequences thanks to some existential supernatural shenanigans. And on the flip side, the seemingly random actions of the kaiju are shown to be the result of all-too-human foibles. I should caution that those looking for more of a straight monster movie are likely to be disappointed, since the action is fairly brief, and the vast majority of the film takes place in Maine, with only news reports and internet videos filling the characters in on what's going down in Seoul. This is clearly a low-budget production, and the effects work is limited. Far more is suggested than actually shown. Still, the key sequences with the giant monsters are handled very well, and they make for some very potent symbolism as Gloria's situation goes increasingly sideways.

It's Hathaway and Sudeikis's performances that are the main event here. Both are playing characters with significant personal problems, Gloria's being the more obvious at the outset. "Colossal" does an excellent job of slowly laying down bits of information to help shift our perceptions of the situation as it develops, but the initial impressions of our lead as a barely functional alcoholic are vital. Hathaway is able to keep Gloria just sympathetic and funny enough not to be off-putting, but still a desperate trainwreck of a human being who has clearly crossed a few boundaries a few too many times. Gloria is the first time that Hathaway has gotten to play a really thorny, interesting character like this since "Rachel Getting Married," and she's still very good at it.

However, I think Sudeikis may be even more effective, and a big reason why the movie works as well as it does. Though he's not outwardly as out-of-control as Gloria is, Oscar similarly has bad impulses that he's not good at dealing with. Gloria's antics often overshadow his lapses, and it's fascinating to watch how Sudeikis is able to maintain a certain ambiguity about Oscar's state of mind almost all the way up until the end. It's easy to blame the state of Gloria's romantic life on her, but the film gradually susses out all the unhealthy contributions that her partners are making, and other friends and acquaintances enable. "Colossal" ends up being a film that has a fairly even-handed and insightful view on the difficulties of recovery and bad relationships.

As genre films have taken over the box office, and we've seen a resurgence in the "Godzilla" franchise and its kaiju relatives, it's great to see the familiar tropes being put to more thoughtful uses than the usual carnage. I've always loved these films, and found "Colossal" to be an imperfect, but highly rewarding watch. Vigalondo has to perform a tricky balancing act between the silly and the dead serious, and the film requires a lot of suspension of disbelief, but it is one of the bravest attempts at putting together two wildly different genres that I've seen in ages. And though it has some rough spots, and definitely could have used a full scale kaiju brawl or two, it mostly works.


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