Colossal (2017) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
25Sep/170

Colossal (2017)

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Gloria returns to her hometown after being dumped and thrown out of her apartment.  As she struggles to get used to the lonely house, a chance meeting with a childhood friend picks her spirits up with new employment and what seems like a fresh start.  While she learns to cope with her alcoholism, the news lights up with a giant monster appearing in South Korea wreaking havoc.  Gloria and the monster are connected, but those connections run wider than anyone could realize.  Nacho Vigalondo wrote the screenplay for and directs Colossal, and stars Anne Hathaway and Jason Sudeikis.

I've only watched two films by Colossal writer/director Nacho Vigalondo.  Neither are interested in playing by safe conventions.  Timecrimes turned a twisty time travel tale into a critique on the male gaze in horror and sci-fi, complete with Vigalondo himself as the scientist contributing to the debacle, and was wickedly entertaining to boot.  Colossal starts off as a boilerplate indie romantic comedy with Gloria (Anne Hathaway) being thrown out of her apartment by her fed-up boyfriend (hilariously summed up in one shallow focus shot of him) and heading back home to get herself back in order.

Gloria does need to put herself together, but not in the way her now ex-boyfriend Tim (a perfectly terse Dan Stevens) wants her to.  What she really needs to do is recognize the toxic influence of men she allows into her life.  In scene after scene, Gloria is gaslit - both by her ex and in a far "friendlier" way by childhood pal Oscar (Jason Sudeikis) - and in a tense confrontation they both reveal a part of their egos involves keeping Gloria confused and under their power in some small way.  This is all before we get to the parts with the giant monsters (kaiju moving forward), Tim Blake Nelson doing some dynamite character work, and two battles that turn the "final girl" horror trope on its head.

Gloria's tentative romance with the reserved Joel (Austin Stowell) is likely to stir memories for folks who got caught in post-sex snuggles longer than anticipated.

These are a lot of components to be juggling in the air all at once and part of Colossal's charm is seeing Vigalondo move effortlessly from one set of genre conventions to the next.  Timecrimes already showed he could balance slapstick, sci-fi, and horror in one go - but Colossal ups the ante by adding romantic angles, domestic strife, and giant monsters.  In truth, the giant monster bits are the least interesting bits of Colossal.  What interested me more was Oscar's gathering menace, letting the "nice guy" persona slip just enough as he's lit deeper into shadows, and Gloria's gradual realization that she's let some horrible men into her life.

Getting there is a ton of fun, even as I started to understand what Tim and Oscar were doing to Gloria.  My own notes are illustrative here, as I wrote about how much of a mess she is when Tim has to remind Gloria she was at his mother's funeral.  As time goes on I have to wonder...was she there?  Vigalondo script is spectacular in building audience suspicion that these men don't have the best intentions for Gloria, and then writing Gloria as self-aware enough to pick up on those same suspicions.  It's a subtle way of showing that Gloria, despite her inebriated introduction, does have an eye for detail that suits her profession as a writer.

Vigalondo isn't splashy with most of the images, which mostly works to his benefit but does result in some less-than-amazing monster scenes.  In a way this fits, because some of the best kaiju movies are more about the character's relationship to each other and how that manifests in whatever the kaiju is doing.  On the other side, Colossal is a bit on the nose here with some indistinct murky design of both the monster and robot kaiju's rendering their involvement less distinct than some of the ominous low-angle setpieces with Oscar.  But there's still a subtle critique of the United States' self-involvement here, with Gloria worried a number of times that no one's going to care about the South Korean devastation for long, and it turns out part of the solution is to bring the monster back home to the States and clear our own yards before playing around in someone else's.

So its Colossal's character work and Vigalondo's direction around little moments that make it special.  None is as special as Garth, played by Nelson (also a great director), who is more clueless about his gaslighting of Gloria than he is vindictive.  He gets a hilarious introduction, telling Gloria he knows what her problem is before launching into a completely unrelated story before Gloria asks him - point-blank - what her problem is.  The exchange shows how casual manipulation can occur under the most innocent of circumstances and gets Gloria examining her interactions more.  Nelson is effortlessly charming despite his bumbling stories, and Colossal's big moment of heartache comes from Garth trying to stand up for himself only to be shouted down at the start of each sentence.

Jason Sudeikis' earlier comedic and dramatic work left me cold, but he hits a nuanced layer of "eager to please" and "total menace" in Colossal.

Colossal comes down to Hathaway and Sudeikis, and whether they can sustain the slow burn of their friendship through the film.  Hathaway's a pro at this, goofy if a bit lacking in self-awareness when she realizes her connection to the monster kaiju, but Sudeikis is spectacular.  I shouldn't have been surprised at the eventual turn because Sudeikis fires off all Oscar's lines like terse bullets, even when he's trying to be friendly.  The biggest tension in Colossal comes between Hathaway's bewilderment turning into suspicion, and Sudeikis' terse friendliness growing into authoritarian monstrosity.  Their penultimate confrontation is a masterclass of menace and slapstick, with Vigalondo referencing a number of classic horror moments as the two struggle amid improvised weaponry.

I enjoyed Colossal and, though my initial excitement has faded since I watched it a few days back, Vigalondo proves himself to be an essential genre creator.  He understands the simple power in the premise of many sci-fi and horror stories, then his restlessness as a writer twists their conventions until they hit as many genres as his films can handle.  Colossal doesn't have the impact of Timecrimes, but it works splendidly as a conceptually insane mashup of different genres, and has great power for folks looking for a bit of off-beat fun.

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Colossal (2017)

Screenplay written and directed by Nacho Vigalondo.
Starring Anne Hathaway and Jason Sudeikis.

Posted by Andrew

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