If you have seen the trailer for “Colossal,” you know what to expect – Anne Hathaway’s character, who is living in the United States, is somehow also a giant monster attacking Seoul, South Korea. And, while that is true, it is also totally and completely misleading. Those events do occur in writer-director Nacho Vigalondo’s movie, but that is not what the movie is about, not remotely. This is not a knock on the movie, trailers don’t have to match films, but the movie itself has serious flaws.
Before we get into spoilers (and we will get into spoilers because it is impossible to not talk about spoilers and still discuss one major place where “Colossal” fails), allow me to appropriately set it up for you. Hathaway’s character, Gloria, is an alcoholic whose boyfriend, Tim (Dan Stevens), breaks up with her because she is not yet at a place where she wants to change. Despondent, Gloria moves back home (the house is usually rented out by her parents, but no one is there currently). She bumps into an old friend, Oscar (Jason Sudeikis), and he gives her a job at his bar. They spend their time drinking and becoming better friends until she realizes that somehow she is the monster scaring the bejesus out of Seoul.
Over the course of the film the mystical nature of this ability of hers to be in Seoul as a giant monster and in a quiet town in the Northeast is explained, but that still isn’t the film’s focus. The movie is about Gloria’s hard-drinking life, Oscar’s hard-drinking life, and the hard-drinking life of Oscar’s friends (played by Tim Blake Nelson and Austin Stowell).
The movie then looks at metaphorical monsters made literal. Gloria struggles to realize the monstrous actions she takes and the resultant damage she unknowingly inflicts upon those around her due to her drinking, just as she struggles with her actually being a monster in South Korea.
Now, the literal monster only appears when Gloria is in a playground at 8:05 in the morning, she just ends up there because she’s drunk. The average human being, upon realizing that they were terrorizing the people of Seoul (population greater than 10 million according to the Seoul Metropolitan Government) would, you know, not go to the playground at 8:05 in the morning. Gloria, being a self-destructive human being with self-destructive, enabling, friends, doesn’t do that. To her credit, she ends up regretting her life choices but it still feels like something that could have been avoided.
Hathaway is actually wonderful here because she is able to make the audience care for Gloria despite Gloria’s making a choice that is significantly worse than drunkenly getting behind the wheel of a car.* There are moments in the movie which aren’t as funny as perhaps intended because they revolve around drunken shenanigans, but the audience remains on Gloria’s side throughout.
*As an aside, we don’t pat drunk drivers on the head and say “do better next time,” which is kind of this film’s stance towards Gloria. We as a society hold drunk drivers legally responsible for their actions behind the wheel and “Colossal” doesn’t seem to so much be making an argument that we shouldn’t as much as it doesn’t seem to understand the equivalency.
Where things really fall apart, however is with the film’s representation of Oscar. For much of “Colossal,” while Oscar is clearly hurting, he is portrayed by Sudeikis as a nice guy just struggling to get along in life both on a professional and personal level. When he becomes jealous, however, Oscar completely flips and turns into a full-on bad human being. It is a poorly conceived, poorly executed, twist. It simply does not feel true based upon what the audience has seen of Oscar to that point, and “Colossal” even appears (for no reason) to waiver momentarily about it, before deciding to go all in. And, while alcohol may bring out some of Oscar’s issues, the movie makes it clear that alcohol is not the root cause of them which only makes the turn that much more difficult to accept. It is a twist which feels shoehorned into the tale, existing for the sake of the movie having a twist (as if Gloria being a monster wasn’t enough) and not something organic. However, this change becomes all-consuming as the movie pushes towards its conclusion, obliterating anything in its path.
“Colossal” has some incredibly funny moments, and Hathaway is great in them. It has some incredibly touching, sincere, moments, and Hathaway is great in them as well. The notion of a person in one place being, at that exact same moment, a massive monster in another is clever and cleverly executed, as is Gloria’s figuring it all out. Vigalondo has a truly smart idea in terms of the outward representation of this inner demon and how Gloria’s small, localized, actions could affect a group of people far beyond what she could ever imagine.
If you want to talk effects, the monster itself as depicted on screen looks realistic. The music that plays in the movie is wonderful as well. It is a movie full of fun shots and great moments.
The pieces that go into making “Colossal” are each individually so terribly well done. But—and it’s a big but—the way in which these pieces are combined into a single whole is off-putting. “Colossal” wants to have it both ways – it wants the audience to laugh at the humorous notion of Gloria being the monster and dancing funny and scratching her head when she gets nervous and everything else we see the monster do. However, it also wants the audience to understand the deadly serious nature of what is going on and how people are being hurt by Gloria and her friends. Those two things don’t fit together, not as “Colossal” tries to make them fit. On that level, it’s like a child slamming his/her fist into two puzzle pieces to force them to connect no matter how much the puzzle itself resists.
photo credit: Neon