Film Review: Colossal

Anne Hathaway’s alcoholic mess discovers she’s linked to a giant South Korean monster in this fascinatingly uneven misfire.
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In the history of noble cinematic misfires, few have been quite as strange as Colossal, a wacko genre hybrid that’s equal parts redemptive character study, social-commentary drama, romantic comedy and monster movie. It’s a daring gambit from director Nacho Vigalondo (Timecrimes), and if it ever hits its intended marks (which is rare), it’s due largely to the sheer out-there boldness of its conceit, in which a young mess of a woman finds that she shares a connection with a titanic Toho-style lizard creature rampaging through Seoul, South Korea. The problem, alas, is that the film itself is a scattered mess, unsure of what it wants to be—or how it wants to be taken—at any given moment. The result is akin to a clever idea unspooling in haphazard ways for almost two hours.

At the center of this bonkers scenario is Gloria (Anne Hathaway), who’s introduced returning home from yet another in a long line of all-night benders. Fed up with this behavior, her stuffy boyfriend Tim (Dan Stevens) throws her out of their New York apartment, which prompts her to return to her quiet upstate hometown, where she moves into her parents’ empty house. Along the way, she runs into her childhood friend Oscar (Jason Sudeikis), whose friendly excitement over this impromptu reunion feels like the setup for an ensuing romantic comedy, one in which Gloria is forced to choose between city and country, and the diametrically opposed men who inhabit those areas.

Instead, Colossal takes a sharp right turn. After yet another alcoholic evening, Gloria awakens to learn that she’s blackout-slept through history—namely, the appearance of a giant Godzilla-ish beast stomping through downtown Seoul. It’s an Earth-shattering event, albeit one that doesn’t derail Gloria’s drinking—at least, that is, until she sees further footage of the gilled monster scratching the top of its head in the exact same way that she does. Spoilers follow: Retracing her steps, she discovers that if she steps onto a park playground at precisely 8:05 each morning, she can make the monster appear across the globe, and in fact play puppeteer with it, her every movement mimicked by the goliath. For all intents and purposes, she is the monster, and the monster is she.

That’s only the start of Colossal’s bizarreness, which soon has Oscar joining in the virtual-reality craziness as the proxy for an equally enormous robot—a development that sends the film tumbling down a rabbit hole of increasingly dire male hostility, as Oscar’s lifelong resentment of Gloria, and anger at the world for his lot in life, becomes weaponized. Yet at almost every turn, Vigalondo doesn’t seem quite sure if he intends for this all to be funny, awe-inspiring or scathing, thanks to a script that never figures out if these characters are supposed to be humorous caricatures or empathetic flesh-and-blood individuals. Consequently, the material, poised between comedy and critique, ambles about clumsily.

Throughout, Hathaway does her best to embody Gloria as a genuine person struggling to figure out how to stabilize her life; in quieter moments of self-loathing and doubt, she almost makes one care about Gloria’s plight. Yet despite its fine performances and uniquely surreal tone, Colossal’s portrait of one woman’s attempt to right her wayward course, and stand up to toxic masculine rage and resentment—literally, as well as figuratively—always feels like it’s struggling to fully cohere. It never does, but that doesn’t prevent its failures from being of a fascinatingly idiosyncratic sort.

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