By Preston Wilder
Raise half a cheer for Colossal, a bizarre comedy-drama that’s likely to be hated with a passion by any red-blooded multiplex audience but remains bolder and more interesting than any number of by-the-book crowd-pleasers (we’re looking at you, Going in Style). Tonally, the film is all over the place; character-wise, it goes in a wrong direction about halfway through and never recovers. It tries for semi-likeable, and doesn’t even clear that bar. In a word, it’s unsatisfying. Yet it’s a film you’ll remember, long after all the bland popcorn fodder has come and gone.
The premise is so wild, it seems a shame to dissect it (you should probably stop reading now if you want to go in completely un-spoiled). Suffice to say that Gloria, a troubled, hard-drinking young woman (Anne Hathaway, in her spiky high-maintenance mode from Rachel Getting Married) discovers that she’s somehow … connected to a gigantic, Godzilla-like monster that appears on the streets of Seoul, killing people by the score and wreaking havoc and destruction. Gloria’s a mess, falling down drunk and suffering from memory lapses – and thousands of innocent Koreans are paying the price.
This is brilliant, on many levels. First, the objective correlative: Gloria’s emotions, her inner turmoil – indeed, as we find out in a flashback, her inner rage – become objectified in the body of the monster. Second, a comment on modern narcissism: we all feel our problems are colossal, we all feel the world revolves around us – and here’s a case where our heroine’s problems really are the size of a tall building, and everything she does in small-town America is felt (and how!) halfway around the world. One could even find a meta-comment in Colossal, i.e. a comment on the films we watch. So-called ‘kaiju’ (Japanese monster movies) are back in fashion, often with the wrinkle of Godzilla fighting another monster – a wrinkle that’s repeated here, when Gloria’s friend Oscar (Jason Sudeikis) also appears in Seoul as a giant robot – but what kind of feeling do they channel? Are they just mechanical escapism? Do we see a human being behind the lizard scales of Godzilla, and what would happen if we did?
Alas, the execution isn’t up to the premise. The film, written and directed by Nacho Vigalondo (a specialist in fusing sci-fi and character drama, see also Timecrimes and Extraterrestrial), doesn’t know what to do with itself. Hathaway’s great, her feline face lost in a tangle of hair, prone to nervous tics like cradling her face in her hand or scratching the top of her head, but her drinking problem is unconvincing (she only seems to drink Pabst Blue Ribbon, for one thing!) and the script doesn’t give her any real reaction – beyond bewilderment – to her unusual situation. There’s a lot of half-baked detail that’s allowed (on purpose, I assume) to remain obscure. Was Gloria some kind of celebrity before her breakdown? What’s the deal with the inappropriate “play on words” that got her fired from something-or-other?
Worst of all, the third act turns Oscar into an abusive villain, which is totally misjudged – both because a film like this doesn’t need a villain and perhaps because Sudeikis is the wrong kind of actor to make it work. Dane DeHaan had a similar arc in Chronicle some years ago but DeHaan is a pricklier persona, with something disturbingly reptilian behind the boyish charm. It’s not that Sudeikis is too nice to play a jerk; it’s that he lacks any evil grandeur or larger-than-life quality, so his friend-gone-bad just seems petty and obnoxious. “You can’t stand that your life feels so small,” says Gloria, accurately. “It’s that simple – and sad!”. There’s a lot of obnoxious behaviour in this movie, which is brave of Vigalondo but off-putting for the casual viewer.
This is not Godzilla or Pacific Rim; it’s actually a Spanish-Canadian co-production, hence the veneer of indie quirkiness. It’s the kind of film where Gloria describes her life as being “like a Wes Anderson movie” (actually “like a f***ing Wes Anderson movie”, for extra edge) and Oscar knows exactly what she means, adding that the songs would probably be better in a Wes Anderson movie. It’s fair to say that the overlap between multiplex viewers looking for the new Godzilla and fans of Wes Anderson movies is probably small – and Colossal does something very bold, populating a catchy sci-fi premise with the flawed, erratic, often unpleasant people you’d expect to find in a gritty indie drama. It needed a firmer hand, or a stronger script; by the end you’re essentially trapped in a muddled plot that doesn’t quite compute, with characters you’d cross the street to avoid. Still, I suspect it’ll stick. Many will walk out annoyed and exasperated – then, six months later, they’ll still be telling friends about that crazy trainwreck with the drunk girl and the monster in Korea.
DIRECTED BY Nacho Vigalondo
STARRING Anne Hathaway, Jason Sudeikis, Dan Stevens
Spain/Canada 2016 110 mins