Suffice to say, there hasn’t been much new in either the “giant monster movie” genre or the “romantic dramedy” genre lately. What it takes is an enlightened, innovative mindset from a visionary filmmaker to put their own unique spin on each. But we rarely see an effervescent genre smash-up quite like writer-director Nacho Vigalondo’s COLOSSAL. This subversive sci-fi dramedy is as highly entertaining as it is cuttingly clever.
Gloria (Anne Hathaway) is having a hard time “adulting.” Not only is her writing career in shambles, her toxic, hard-partying lifestyle is catching up with her. She routinely blacks out after drinking too much. She’s constantly apologizing for things she’s done or missed. She’s a colossal hot mess. Her boyfriend Tim (Dan Stevens) wants none of this either and has reached his breaking point. Seeking idyllic quiet and hoping to gain clarity and control, Gloria returns to her vacated suburban childhood home. It’s not long until she reunites with her former grade-school chum Oscar (Jason Sudeikis), who, much like her, has gotten stuck in life. He reluctantly owns his father’s bar, and still lives in his father’s home. However, no sooner than Gloria arrives do strange things involving a giant kaiju start happening across the globe in Seoul – things strikingly similar to events that happened there twenty-five years prior. Coincidence? I think not…and if you’ve seen the trailer, you’ll know it’s not.
To help guard the integrity of COLOSSAL’s twists, I can only comment vaguely on Vigalondo’s insanely brilliant narrative. He surprises us, not only in terms of genre-filmmaking, but also in terms of character development, precisely changing their motivations on a dime. The material takes a sharp left turn with one character in particular, a turn you must lean into to reap the rewards of Vigalondo’s genius. He also sticks to the rules of the world he’s created. To heighten the comedy, there’s a legitimately funny playground-set sequence that edits the Seoul monster/ robot fight with American crowds cheering from afar. Hats off to editors Ben Baudhuin and Luke Doolan for their adept skills. You might find yourself a little ahead of the big reveal, but it’s no less astonishing. Plus Vigalondo and Hathaway (more of this from her, PLEASE!) gift audiences with a complex, compromised-but-capable heroine for the ages.
While this hits us on a superficially entertaining level, Vigalondo digs deeper, really mining the territory to get the most emotionally out of any silly shenanigan. Even though this dramedy has a fantastical sci-fi bent to it, it still manages to speak to real world issues like destructive behavior, bullying, gaslighting and alcoholism. This works on a metaphorical level, with different characters’ literal and emotional paths of destruction, and attempts to control their beasts/ inner demons. The underpinnings of self-help platitudes like “Hurt people hurt people,” and “You are not the amalgam of your mistakes” reverberate throughout the second half.
Though overall there’s good balance between light and dark aspects, tonal shifts hit a very small handful of rough patches – specifically when it comes to the outcomes of tertiary characters like Garth (Tim Blake Nelson) and Joel (Austin Stowell). There are a few sequences that slow down the momentum. Those scenes – like Oscar’s “irresponsible things to do in a bar” monologue that hangs for a little too long – are obviously supposed to make us squirm because of the awkwardness, but they are also awkwardly handled from a creative aspect.
Nevertheless, this is a fun movie that has the astute intelligence to back up the rock-em-sock-em action.
COLOSSAL opens on April 7.