Everything about Colossal is a pleasant surprise. From its cute premise carrying actual dramatic weight, to every moment it made the choice to be better instead of safer, to the revelation of Spanish filmmaker Nacho Vigalondo demonstrating that his brand of humor and metaphor needs no further translation, it is difficult to recall a film that bends genres and tones so effectively while always remaining emotionally effective and uncompromisingly true to its own rules.
Anne Hathaway plays Gloria, an out-of-work writer who relies far too heavily on alcohol and partying while living in the city with her boyfriend, Tim (Dan Stevens). Tim loves her, but the constant lying about why she never comes home at night is too much. After being kicked out, Gloria returns to the house she grew up in—currently unoccupied—to decompress and figure her life out, and she encounters childhood friend Oscar (Jason Sudekis). Oscar owns a local bar and agrees to employ Gloria as a waitress, a decision that is good for her stability but bad for her sobriety, especially given Oscar’s habit of drinking all night with his friends after the bar has closed.
R, 110 minutes
Regal Stonefield 14 and IMAX, Violet Crown Cinema
It’s around this time that a monster begins to appear in Seoul, South Korea, seemingly out of thin air and only for a few moments, but always in the same location and at the same time of day. Before long, Gloria begins to notice a direct connection with herself and the creature. This revelation is slightly amusing at first, but her actions—sometimes as she drunkenly stumbles home from the bar—could prove devastating to innocent people.
A premise like this can only be successfully done if the filmmaker goes all-in, which Vigalondo does. It’s an unusual decision to make a monster movie that focuses on the other side of the planet, but in doing so, many of the most distracting tropes are avoided. The victims of the attacks are never essentialized, nor are they faceless even if they are rarely seen. The weight of what it truly means to destroy a city and possibly kill many innocent people is always present, far more than in many PG-13 action/disaster flicks that treat the destruction of a city and subsequent death of millions as secondary to the emotions of the hero. Going even further, the exact nature of the relationship between Gloria, Oscar, their life decisions and emotional states, and the appearances of the monsters are all deeply intertwined in surprising and poignant ways.
Colossal is very often a funny movie, but the humor is never at its own expense; it grows organically alongside every other emotion that the characters face. Hathaway is stellar as Gloria, depicting her as more than the series of compulsive behaviors, which a lesser performer might have fallen back on.
We all attempt to bury the tragedy, depression, fixation, disappointment and self-loathing of our everyday lives as deep within us as possible in order to conceal these traits from others, yet they play such a significant part in our actions in times of uncertainty and vulnerability.
Sudekis, meanwhile, is a revelation as Oscar, a character who uses the actor’s winsome charm as a weapon of control, gaining the trust of those around him then manipulating anyone who challenges or abandons him. Sudekis has always been a welcome screen presence, but this award-caliber performance is the finest he has ever been.
The description of the plot and characters is perhaps best left there, as watching the unfolding is truly remarkable. There hasn’t been another movie quite like Colossal, perhaps ever. Intelligent without being smug, funny without resorting to cheap gags, emotional without unearned tearjerker moments, Vigalondo has performed nothing short of a miracle in turning the strangest premise in recent memory into one of the year’s must-sees.
Playing this week
Regal Stonefield 14 and IMAX
The Shops at Stonefield, 244-3213
Beauty and the Beast, Born in China, The Boss Baby, The Case for Christ, The Circle, The Fate of the Furious, Get Out, Gifted, Going in Style, Logan, The Promise, Sleight, Unforgettable
Violet Crown Cinema
200 W. Main St., Downtown Mall, 529-3000
Beauty and the Beast, The Boss Baby, The Circle, The Fate of the Furious, Gifted, Going in Style, The Lost City of Z, Their Finest, Your Name, The Zookeeper’s Wife