Colossal (2016) / Comedy-Fantasy
MPAA Rated: R for language
Running Time: 110 min.
Cast: Anne Hathaway, Jason Sudeikis, Dan Stevens, Austin Stowell, Tim Blake Nelson
Director: Nacho Vigalondo
Screenplay: Nacho Vigalondo
Review published April 25, 2017
Train-wreck lush writer Gloria (Anne Hathaway, Alice Through the Looking Glass) returns back to her small hometown from New York City after a break-up, only to become unnerved at the sight of a skyscraper-sized, kaiju-esque monster that appears to be on a rampage in downtown Seoul, Korea. As soon as she arrives, she runs into her childhood friend from her public school days, Oscar (Sudeikis, The Angry Birds Movie), who has inherited the local bar that, like the rest of the town, has seen better days. Carrying a torch for Gloria, Oscar offers her a job as a waitress, as they get reacquainted. Things get a lot more complicated when Gloria discovers that the monster in Seoul is mimicking her exact actions at a certain time in a certain locale in the town. Horrified by the fact that her actions have already claimed many lives, Gloria takes the time to try to atone, and to tell the city that she means no more harm. And then a giant robot appears...
Colossal is written and directed by Spanish filmmaker Nacho Vigalondo (Open Windows, Timecrimes), who surprises with an interesting conceptual idea for his movie to pin its story, which seeks to show in a real fashion the metaphor of how people can turn into monsters of their own making, given a series of extenuating circumstances that include depression, loneliness, anger, jealousy, and inadequacy. The destructiveness, not only to oneself, and to others around the person, can be quite substantial, and often those people don't change their behavior until they see the aftermath of the immense collateral damage they've wrought. The film also dabbles into guilt trips and emotional blackmail, where one party tries to exert power over another using the threat of continued bad behavior and hardship if demands aren't met.
Conceptually speaking, there is a good deal to admire from Vigalondo's unique approach. Alas, the execution is lacking in many respects. To start, the film is billed as a comedy, and yet, while the tone is comical, the laughs are mostly absent. Part of this is due to the casting of Hathaway and Sudeikis in the lead roles. Hathaway here is playing against type, which some will immediately find refreshing, but outside of the fact that she is usually playing prim and proper characters, there's nothing notable about the level of performance that she gives. The same can somewhat be said about Sudeikis, who handles the comedy far better, as you'd expect, but who struggles to retain credibility when given a story arc that asks us to find him more dark and intimidating as the film proceeds. If there are terrifying wheels of anger, resentment, or bitterness turning within his mind, we only sense them because we are told that he's feeling those things and not because of any kind of nuance in the portrayal. Any perceptible ability to convey complex emotions is just not evident in Sudeikis in dark mode.
As far as the ability for Gloria to find some inner strength to deal with not only the men in her life who seek to control her, as well as to overcome her own lost sense of self-worth, it's an admirable story arc in theory, but so many false notes are played throughout Colossal that we're not afforded much investment in her characterization to buy into her character fully. No doubt that some people in the audience will get so caught up with the underlying themes of the film that they will forgive a good deal of poor pacing, ham-handed delivery of expository information (flashback sequences are especially irksome), and underdeveloped details in expressing psychological motivations. Colossal is one of those films that works more in one's mind than on the screen, and how much you enjoy it will likely come from whatever thoughts that occur to you as it plays, rather than the quality of the execution of what's actually playing. While the thematic ambition is indeed colossal, the finer details get lost in this big picture.
©2017 Vince Leo