COLOSSAL (Movie Review)

***1/2 out of ****
Rated R
(for strong language)
Released:  April 21, 2017 limited; April 28 wide
Runtime: 109 minutes
Director: Nacho Vigalondo
Starring: Anne Hathaway, Jason Sudeikis, Dan Stevens, Tim Blake Nelson, Austin Stowell

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Nacho Vigalondo is a Spanish filmmaker. His new film is Colossal, and now I want to see what this guy could do with a Marvel movie.

Wait.  No I don’t. The last thing anyone should want is for a director this clever, ingenious, and effective to get sucked up into a soulless corporate machine. If his perfectly realized little sci-fi indie is any indication, please, just let Nacho keep following whatever muses may strike him.

Colossal – about a New York woman who’s somehow psychically connected to a rampaging monster (a la Godzilla) in Seoul, South Korea – is like an accessible version of a Charlie Kaufman movie (Being John Malkovich, et al). That is to say it’s weird, but not weirdly told.

Like Kaufman, Vigalondo uses a bizarre, inspired premise as an allegory for something more substantial (while crafting his movie with impressive polish and vision, on a low budget). Anne Hathaway plays Gloria, an out-of-work alcoholic party girl who’s been kicked out of her shared NYC apartment by her boyfriend (Dan Stevens) because he can’t take any more of her mooching, not to mention her general self-destructive behavior.

She goes back to her small town and the abandoned house of her late parents where she reconnects with Oscar (Jason Sudeikis), a childhood friend who now runs his dad’s bar. As they (along with the rest of the world) follow the mysterious and harrowing events of the Korean monster, Gloria realizes to her shock that the creature’s movements mirror hers exactly whenever it appears.

The implications of this, including the destruction that the monster leaves in its wake, is obviously an overwhelming burden for Gloria to handle.

The metaphor here is pretty obvious: the real-life Korean monster represents Gloria’s internal alcoholic monster, and the taming of both are inextricably linked. Yet thankfully, that on-the-nose concept doesn’t reflect a painfully obvious text, nor is it a lazy excuse for a too-clever B-movie to take itself more importantly than it should.

Instead, the parable expands and reveals layers that are much deeper than I was expecting, and through a story that goes places I couldn’t predict. If you’ve seen the trailer and thought (like me) that you’d been given nearly the entire plot, well, you haven’t.

To the extent the monster destroys the world around it, it’s because Gloria is carelessly destroying hers. To be able to visualize that wanton destruction on a mass scale is a provocative if fantastical wake-up call, and one that could make anyone reconsider their own vices anew.

What’s particularly insightful, and true, about the way Vigalondo plays with this metaphor is how the “monster” here really isn’t alcoholism. Addiction is merely a symptom of something with more insidious roots: jealousy, shame, anger, bitterness, loss and, especially, self-loathing.

I should stress that Colossal often works as a dark comedy within the sci-fi genre, so it’s not a self-serious indie that’s a slog to get through. On the contrary, it’s funny, beguiling, and fascinating.

Hathaway strikes a perfect, natural balance between the various tones Vigalondo blends, while also keeping her character earnest. Sudeikis utilizes his eminently likeable, casual charm but not as a reflexive fallback. As the script requires more of him through its twists, turns, and ratcheting tension, Sudeikis expands his range to meet the challenge.

Even though Colossal is working in metaphor, there’s also the fact that a literal story is being told here, with a narrative so strange that its outcome is hard to see. When Gloria finally realizes what the solution to this whole phenomenon must be, it’s so simple, so pure, so perfect that I’m shocked I couldn’t see it coming – all to the film’s credit, and to Nacho Vigalondo’s.

He also, wisely and poignantly, layers Gloria’s triumph with necessary sadness, tragedy, and heartbreak. No one comes out of addiction clean, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be conquered. Still, who knew exploring it could be this simultaneously honest and entertaining?

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