Director: Nacho Vigalondo
Genre: Comedy, Sci-Fi
NEON Films is the new distribution company on the block, and in an industry as competitive as Hollywood, it’s important to make a strong first impression if you want to stick around. NEON knows this, and with their debut film, COLOSSAL, they seem to be placing all of their chips in the “quirky” corner. Here is a monster movie with the trappings of an Apatow dramedy, starring Anne Hathaway in what is arguably her first lead role since 2001’s THE PRINCESS DIARIES. The movie is preceded by a hilarious, Disney-esque “NEON Short” about the banality of Instagram culture, and instead of posters, little promotional monster finger puppets* are distributed at the theater. It’s a similar presence to POKEMON: THE FIRST MOVIE’s release, but instead of targeting kids, the crosshairs are firmly placed on post-grad millennials with strong opinions on The Chainsmokers.
*Reference, because apparently there are people who DIDN’T have 40 of these laying around their room at one point or another
COLOSSAL is certainly just as off-kilter as the zeitgeist surrounding it. The movie follows Gloria (Hathaway), a New York City urbanite who is kicked out by her boyfriend (Dan Stevens) after missing one too many dates due to her raging alcoholism. Retreating to her rural hometown, she finds work as a waitress at a bar owned by her childhood friend, Oscar (Jason Sudeikis). Incidentally, this is set in a world where a giant monster briefly appeared in Seoul 20 years ago, and reemerges around the same time Gloria comes home. It doesn’t take long for Gloria to realize that the monster’s appearance and actions are somehow controlled by her when she visits a playground from her youth, which happens to have the same layout as the capital of South Korea.
The story alone is wacky, but the execution is in a league of its own, as so many aspects of COLOSSAL sound more like mistakes than masterstrokes. There are elaborate set pieces of a ravaged Seoul, complete with a blockbuster-quality CGI monster swatting helicopters out of the sky, but 90% of the action takes place in a dimly lit bar. It’s a 15 million dollar film with a premise that could probably be done well at 15 thousand. Hell, they cast Jason Sudeikis in a fairly serious role (he’s great, by the way.) Nothing about this movie makes sense, but that’s the point, as COLOSSAL goes the extra mile to make sure it isn’t just the script that’s bonkers.
Pictured: The budget
What’s most impressive about COLOSSAL’s allegorical devastation is how it takes such a depressing subject as substance abuse and lends it an air of levity. Despite being marketed as a kaiju movie, the real monster in COLOSSAL is alcoholism (you can bet Vigalondo was proud of himself when he came up with that one). Both the leads are complete wrecks, and their addiction to the bottle causes no end of misery to themselves and the people around them. It’s a cycle with no end in sight: their dead-end country lifestyle causes them to drink, and it’s precisely because they drink that they are unsuited for any other fate. As much as Hathaway’s character laments the lack of wi-fi or white collar jobs in her town, it’s the only refuge where she can escape scorn or judgement, leading to a codependency with her fellow drinkers that is both therapeutic and poisonous.
Yet because the ramifications of this despair are portrayed through the demolition of a major metropolitan area, rather than less crowd-pleasing alternatives like murdering a hooker or suicide, we’re able to get our jollies while still learning a very digestible tale of woe. Hathaway’s destruction of the city is payback for her own rejection by urban society, but such impersonal stakes remove the gut-wrenching implications of her isolation. Instead, Hathaway’s friends get to crack wise about her predicament as it plays out larger than life on TV, and the audience gets to join in with them. What could easily have come off as tacky and irreverent manages to be rather empowering. Imagine LEAVING LAS VEGAS, but if Del Toro directed it and Nic Cage wasted the city instead of himself.
Finally, an excuse to use this image
Also like LEAVING LAS VEGAS, COLOSSAL is driven primarily by its two powerful leads. It’s refreshing to see Hathaway in a lead role that doesn’t involve getting rescued by the hero in a Christopher Nolan film. She unsurprisingly kills it, but what is shocking is how Sudeikis steals the show from her. This is easily the best performance the SNL alum has given us on the big screen, and maybe even in his entire career. It’s vital that both actors are at the top of their game, because their synergy is the only thing holding COLOSSAL together during a second act slump. It definitely doesn’t help that their relationship is stretched out over a Godzilla-sized 110 minute runtime, either, another side effect from the film’s grandiose trappings.
Aside from dragging in the middle, the script also takes its fair share of liberties. Am I really supposed to believe that Hathaway would be able to forget about a giant monster attacking Seoul 20 years ago? There’s a lot that I’ve blocked out about my middle school years, but that seems like one thing that would stick. Also worth noting, despite supposedly possessing a nervous tic that she shares with the monster, which is how she establishes their connection in the first place, its existence is oddly trivial: a wholly unnecessary character trait that could have been capitalized on with more nuance. COLOSSAL isn’t a movie that relies on logic or necessitates explanation (even if it does shoehorn in a pointless, nay, problematic origin story for Hathaway’s ability), but the lunacy of the situation shouldn’t excuse bad storytelling. All of these issues exist for the sole purpose of following the established tropes of superhero and monster movies, but COLOSSAL only fits into either of these camps on the most superficial levels.
Cool tattoo, Anne
COLOSSAL is a film full of anomalies and juxtapositions, enough to the point that it probably shouldn’t work, but its saving grace is how willfully absurd it is. Though never meta or self-referential enough to be considered parody, COLOSSAL is nevertheless a fun, monster-sized spin on the indie film, giving us kaiju anti-battles and two rebranding performances from its key players. Does it have an identity crisis? Sure. There are times where NEON’s debut feature doesn’t know which part of Hollywood to call home, but solid performances and the one-of-a-kind concept make for a memorable time despite this. COLOSSAL may not be a classic, but it certainly is a curiosity that is worth your attention.