Written and directed by: Nacho Vigolando
Starring: Anne Hathaway, Jason Sudeikis, Dan Stevens, Tim Blake-Nelson and Austin Stowell
Gloria is an unemployed writer and unacknowledged alcoholic. She’s a mess, and her boyfriend Tim has had enough. He throws her out and with nowhere to go, Gloria returns to her parents’ now vacant house. She runs into school friend Oscar (Sudeikis) who runs his father’s bar. She accepts a job there and spends her nights drinking with Oscar, Joel (Stowell) and Garth (Nelson). Then one morning, she wakes to find a gigantic monster has appeared out of thin air and caused vast destruction in Seoul. Soon Gloria realises that somehow, she and the kaiju are connected to a local playground, a day she can barely remember and the reason why she’s always scratching her head…
Colossal is both a fantastic giant monster movie and much, much more than that. Vigolando’s script, and the pleasingly solid special effects, give the monster a definite presence and physicality. The script does some of its best work shifting between Gloria and the monster too, often using character’s phones to create a ‘picture in picture’ effect that works seamlessly. The internal logic of the story isn’t apparent at first but it is there, and there’s a reason for every single thing that happens. It’s a tightly directed action movie and the designs alone will bring joy to giant monster fans.
But this is a movie that demands more of its audience and deserves a larger audience too.
Colossal’s title is… well… a colossal play on words. The earth-shaking events in Seoul are vital to the plot but they also serve as the canvas for a much smaller story. Hathaway’s Gloria is a magnificent mess of a human being and the actress expertly places her exactly halfway between two bar stools. On the one hand, she’s a lying, manipulative human dumpster fire. On the other, she’s clearly trying and the film’s gradual redemption arc for her is untidy, human and fiercely well earned. Hathaway is one of those performers who is weirdly unpopular and she uses that here. The end result is a character that can stand shoulder to shoulder with Ellen Ripley and Sarah Conner, but may well have much more of a headache than either.
Nelson, Stowells and Stevens all do great work here too, especially Stevens. As Tim (Gloria’s not-quite-ex) he gets to be fussy, British and self-righteous without ever being a stereotype. He’s a decent guy. But he’s not much more than decent and the shades of grey the movie begins to explore in its second half are played out by Hathaway, Stevens and Sudeikis.
Sudeikis, for his part, does the same thing as Hathaway here to shattering effect. He cleverly parlays his occasionally unlikeable screen presence into a character who is, like Gloria, a mess. The performance plays like early Ben Affleck a lot of the time. There’s the same slightly awkward hulking physicality, the same self-consciousness. But as the movie continues, and we find out more about Oscar, Sudeikis’s performance steps up several gears. We won’t spoil one of the most carefully crafted reveals we’ve seen in a very long time, but this is a movie that gets far more personal, realistic and unsettling than the trailers have led you to believe.
This is what we mean when we say the title is a play on words. Gloria, Tim and Oscar’s lives are tiny but their problems are colossal and the implications of their actions are even bigger. This leads to a constantly ramping sense of tension that culminates in a moment of genuinely shocking, very personal violence that’s intercut with implied city-wide destruction. It’s a brilliantly clever sequence and a very hard watch for anyone who’s been in similar situations.
If anything, that’s the one criticism that could be levelled at Colossal. It deals with a knot of issues ranging from small town apathy to male entitlement to emotional and physical abuse in a way that’s perceptive, compassionate, often very funny and at times almost impossible to sit through. But you should. When a film’s one fault is the courage of its convictions, that’s not really a fault at all. Colossal is a surprising, necessary and astonishingly nuanced movie that deserves a colossal audience. If you can, make sure you’re part of it.