Spanish science-fiction director Nacho Vigalondo’s Hollywood debut “Colossal” bites off more than it can chew. The darkly comical Godzilla reimagination tries to be a movie about emotional abuse, and alcoholism, and imperialism, and elitism. It is at once a comedy, a thriller, and sci-fi, as well as a part-time romance. The problem is, when it tries to be good at everything, it falls short in mostly everything. The film relies on the sort of idiosyncratic, quirky fun that cannot sustain an entire movie. When it’s time to get serious, the fun energy peters out, leaving a film that tries to be bigger than it is.
"Colossal" tells the story of Gloria (Anne Hathaway, whose bangs get progressively frizzier), an alcoholic, thirty-something human tornado residing in her boyfriend’s apartment. Her life is as messy as it is glamorous: She has friends named “Oasis” and parties at the Loft until sunrise. But her hard-partying lifestyle grinds to a halt when Tim, her boyfriend (a very exasperated and very British Dan Stevens) finally evicts her. Gloria seeks refuge in her suburban hometown, where she reunites with Oscar (Jason Sudeikis), a childhood friend who now runs a local bar where Gloria becomes a waitress. Just as Gloria adjusts to her new life, the world is shaken by the catastrophic news that a giant monster has started appearing in downtown Seoul, South Korea, and terrorizing citizens every night at the same time. After watching news coverage and connecting a few dots, Gloria realizes that her behavior is directly tied to the appearance of the monster, and she commands remote-control power from thousands of miles away. The story grows even more complicated when she realizes someone else wields the same ability.
As Gloria, Anne Hathaway delivers a resonant portrayal of a millennial woman caught in the throes of alcoholism, grappling with the reality of her own personal setbacks, and confronted with the sudden pressure of having to play God. She can barely be responsible for herself, let alone an entire city’s population. Her storyline is like a Cinderella story, only instead of rags to riches, the film tracks her arc from chaotic neutral to lawful good. The crux of Hathaway’s dynamic performance lies in Gloria’s simmering frustration at the guys in her life. They try to play her like a puppet, making her do a million paradoxical things at once under the guise of wanting what’s best for her. They try to make her drink, then stop drinking. They encourage her to get control of her life, but then chastise her for achieving self-sufficiency.
The master puppeteer is Oscar, played by Sudeikis in an impressive departure from his normal comedic roles. Wearing the hats of both Jekyll and Hyde, Sudeikis’ Oscar is a multifaceted look into the frightening ethos of the Nice Guy. Having stayed in their Podunk hometown for his entire life, Oscar develops an inferiority complex toward Gloria and the urban fairy-tale life she seems to lead. “Somebody actually made it out of here and did something special,” he says to Gloria, smiling, but his eyes convey less admiration than jealousy and resentment.
In the wake of Oscar and Gloria’s personal woes, the world disaster feels like a footnote, marginalia scribbled in the negative space of Vigalondo’s screenplay. There’s something distinctly unsettling about the fact that the film focuses on Gloria’s personal issues when her drunken mishaps have a body count: the senseless, tragic death of hundreds of innocent Koreans. “That’s a shame,” Gloria observes as news anchors read the body counts. “If the monster’s only attacking Seoul, the rest of the world will stop caring.” Unsurprisingly, we already have.
Perhaps the imbalance is owing partially to the film’s lackluster visual effects and uninspiring screenplay. Though it has a higher budget than any of Vigalondo’s past films, the special effects—the monster appearing in Seoul, the ensuing action scenes—do not quite meet mainstream CGI standards. And with the exception of a few delightful one-liners, Vigalondo’s dialogue feels underwhelming and artificial, with punchlines verging on the predictable.
Despite compelling performances from Hathaway and Sudeikis, “Colossal” feels like a larger-than-life commentary unnecessarily embroiled in polemics. The film has its moments, but one wonders whether it ought to pick on something—well, its own size.
—Staff writer Caroline A. Tsai can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @carolinetsai3.
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