Imagine: what if the demons from your past materialized and started destroying Seoul?
“Colossal” is the story of Gloria, played by Anne Hathaway, who is a functioning alcoholic and unemployed writer who returns to her hometown after a fight with her ex-boyfriend Tim (Dan Stevens). She coincidentally meets up with her childhood friend Oscar (Jason Sudeikis) and works part-time at his bar. However, at the same time as her return, a large kaiju, the Japanese approximation for “giant monster,” appears and begins destroying Seoul, South Korea.
“Colossal” is a film where you hear its central premise and can’t quite imagine it working. To my delight, the film is very cohesive and the script effectively maneuvers and balances its different tones. It can be both funny and dark at a moment’s notice, or even at the same time, like in a scene where a character tells Gloria that a helicopter crashed into the kaiju’s head and she asks worriedly, “with like the pilot and everything?”
The central allegory of the kaiju as Gloria’s alcoholism is one of the more obvious elements in the film, but there is also an interesting, subtle discussion on masculinity and the “nice guy” archetype. The most daring thing about “Colossal” is its condemnation of nice guys as entitled. There’s also something universal to the film’s thesis, which is conveyed through its location. The audience is not told where the film takes place, an intentional decision by writer-director Nacho Vigalondo. It’s vivid, but the events that unfold throughout could take place anywhere.
A large part of its success falls upon the shoulders of its lead. Hathaway is delightfully refreshing and charming as she makes a character whose life is a mess seem to be deserving of sympathy to the audience. Despite mistake after mistake that she makes, whether it be her continuous drinking or working at a bar despite her alcoholism, we root for her success. Hathaway’s Gloria is clearly well-intentioned, which is why her mistakes are so agonizing.
The supporting cast is good as well. Sudeikis effectively communicates the darkness of his character; that’s all I will say to avoid spoilers. Stevens, although only in a few scenes in the film, finds some nuance in a character that is admittedly a little poorly defined.
The biggest strength of this film is its subversiveness. The self-aware script smartly avoids many of the tropes the film’s many genres deploy. There is no redemption for certain characters in the film. Gloria and Oscar do not end up falling in love (there is a confrontation between Gloria and Oscar in the third act that smartly acknowledges this).
This subversiveness permeates to the film’s casting as well. Hathaway is typically known for playing adorable characters in romantic comedies. Here, she gets to plays a role that’s uncharacteristic for her. Sudeikis has also never played a character as dark as Oscar.
“Colossal” is not a perfect film, but the execution of its goals is impressive. It’s bizarre, hilarious, daring, and incredibly fun, and that’s more than enough.