Gloria’s (Anne Hathaway) life is a catastrophe of her own making, too much partying and at least a little alcoholism eventually cratering her promising career as a writer. But it pales in comparison to what’s going on in Seoul, where a giant monster has literally materialized out of thin air to repeatedly raze the city. Gloria glues herself to the TV news reports until she starts to notice the monster has more than a few strangely familiar habits. To her horror, she begins to suspect that she and the beast are somehow connected and her disastrous personal life is starting to have global consequences.
Can we all just take a moment to appreciate what an incredibly weird year 2017 has been for movies? First, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 went completely off its rocker; then Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets showed up and made it look positively grounded. Horror gave us the utter insanity of A Cure for Wellness and the pointed satire of the totally unprecedented Get Out. Bong Joon-ho made yet another bizarre entry in his already weird filmography with an R-rated environmentalist adventure kids movie with cartoonish characters and bloody animal torture. And now we have a wayward millennial indie dramedy kaiju movie — Godzilla meets Zach Braff.
Some of those movies were great; others were not. Nevertheless, I love having interesting emotional responses to movies again.
Colossal is messy but in a way that kind of suits it: Its clumsy earnestness and freewheeling tone so perfectly match its characters and story that part of me wonders if it’s all intentional, if every scene is supposed to feel like chaos. It approaches every development with a wide-eyed and innocent sort of sincerity, one that keeps the off-kilter premise in perspective but doesn’t use comedy as a means to distance viewers from the uncoolness of liking it. It’s very good at allowing comedy and drama to exist in the same space, even when both are at their most extreme, keeping its characters’ motivations and its stakes at the forefront while using tricks of editing, lighting, camerawork, and scoring to highlight the absurdity of the proceedings. It’s a strange sensation, being so invested in something you’re laughing at, and it lends the movie a distinctive touch.
It’s similarly able to maintain its air of innocence while doubling as social satire. Being an indie movie and a big, dumb genre flick, it’s able to trade in both literal depictions and metaphor, centered on a story that’s primarily a relationship drama, the bread and butter of indie dramedies. Of course, you’ve never seen either done exactly like this.
The line between Gloria and the monster is straight as an arrow — she’s living amidst self-inflicted disaster, and what’s more disastrous than a giant monster stomping through a South Korean city? Eventually, though, it becomes more device than metaphor, a larger-than-life, cinematic way of expressing relational issues with humor, pathos, and a bit of big-screen spectacle. The movie ultimately ends up being more about the men in Gloria’s life than Gloria herself, though the two are, of course, connected. This is where the movie gets a little too messy, mostly abandoning Gloria’s arc to focus on various cultural issues to which it struggles to attach a story that goes somewhere. Neither direction is the wrong way to go; both are interesting, and well-observed for the period of time that the movie chooses to focus on them. The problem is that the first half of the movie never gets a proper ending and the second half never gets a proper beginning. Moreover, the second half lives in and observes the issues it’s exploring without giving them the necessary structure and meaning — not that every movie exists to answer questions, but Colossal doesn’t really function as an explainer. Fortunately, Gloria’s problems have a close enough relationship that, overall, the movie feels whole.
At any rate, Colossal is pretty good at probing relationships, particularly romantic ones, when it chooses to do so. It’s first and foremost a loud and much-needed repudiation of “nice guy-ism,” so much so that it almost loses control of its characters for a bit. But it also touches upon the push-pull of a variety of relationships and captures some of the more complicated reasons they go wrong — the way we demand too much of each other, or feel entitled, or take things for granted. It’s also about the way we too easily forgive our friends for the wrongs they commit against others and thus become enablers, lending tacit supports to their toxic worldviews.
The movie rockets from one tone to the next as it addresses all of this, but given the catastrophic nature of its story, it’s almost better that way. It’s funny sometimes, absurd always, occasionally moving, and, by the time the climax rolls around, even genuinely tense. It contains moments of sober reflection and moments of action movie triumph. It’s the sort of thing that might have been a big hit, or at least a future cult classic, in the 80s.
I think the performances in this movie have been really underrated. Anne Hathaway here reaffirms that, for reasons known but to God, she’s best at playing nervous losers who leave a trail of social destruction in their wake wherever they go. And for once, the movie suggests it’s the character’s personality and decisions that make her a loser, instead of trying to sell her as an ugly nerd — for my money, still the most baffling thing Hollywood ever tried to sell us (and the only real data point social scientists need to determine why everyone in the 21st century has body image disorders). It’s a reminder of what made her a star in the first place — she’s funny, she’s charming, she can ground that in character, and she can craft a heroine you have no problem rooting for. Jason Sudeikis also acquits himself well, showing more range than I can remember ever seeing from him — his character contains multitudes, and it’s impressive how he can shift the dial from funny and charismatic to angry and almost intimidating.
Colossal is all over the place, but it needs to be — and its merits far outweigh its flaws. It’s fun, engaging, and original, a unique standout in a year full of unique standouts. If 2017 has taught us anything, it’s that there are plenty of brand new stories still waiting to be told, and if they’re anything like Colossal, I can’t wait to see them.