There’s not really an explanation of Colossal that does it sufficient justice. But I’m still going to have a go.
Narratively, it centres on Anne Hathaway’s Gloria, who’s in a breaking relationship with Dan Stevens’ Tim. As they finally part, she moves from the lights of New York to her quiet and still home town, a homogenous place in middle America. It’s a small town that remembers Gloria in places, although Gloria’s own brain is struggling as a consequence of her drink problem.
When she lands back in an empty house, having to start from scratch again in her 30s, there’s a very real sense of a life gone wrong.
And so she rebuilds, very slowly. She soon finds herself reunited with Oscar, played by Jason Sudeikis in a career-best performance, a friend from her youth. He’s still stuck, running the bar he’s inherited, although he’s had to shut part of it off due to lack of custom. Things aren’t too great for him, either. Still, he offers Gloria a job, a far less glamorous one than the kind she was chasing in New York. All of which sets things up for what follows.
That’s the easy to explain bit. The less easy bit is the link to a Godzilla-esque monster, rampaging through Seoul in South Korea, thousands of miles away. A monster Gloria seems to be controlling through her actions. It’s played narratively straight – and given that this is from the brain of Timecrimes director Nacho Vigalondo, that shouldn’t be taken for granted – and inevitably, you instantly draw parallels between the monsters within us, and the one actually causing terror in the film.
It’s a real lesson in film internal logic that Colossal offers, too. That you can take a fantastical idea, and – by rooting it in character, and storytelling that never cheats – have the audience buy it with little quibble. I was surprised how quickly it all settled. And then I was surprised by how hard the film hit me. For Colossal is one of the most human films of the year. A film that mixes, successfully, dark drama with light touches, and that within 30 minutes has made such an absurd conceit feel like the most natural thing in the world.
A huge amount of credit for that rests with Anne Hathaway. I read that she deliberately wanted to seek out something a little bit different, a little bit more challenging, and hence she found and championed Colossal. I’m glad she did. She pours her heart into the film, stabilising the movie with a moving, genuine central performance. Paired with Sudeikis, there’s a core of quite excellent acting at the heart of the movie. It reminds me a little of the wonderful The Gift, in terms of actors you expect to often put in lighter performances finding real steel in the midst of their work. Their core dynamic is a key reason the film is as gripping as it it.
The other, I’d suggest, is Vigalondo, who occasionally bashes against the edges of what his budget will afford him (only a few times do you notice that the effects are on the shakey side, but then most of the time, you’d barely notice), but primarily homes in on broken characters, how they’ve got there, and the damage they wreak. There’s some real heart in mouth stuff here, as personal demons take hold.
Comfortably at its best when it’s a two hander between its lead stars (Dan Stevens, for one, is pretty wasted – not in that sense – in his role, for instance), Colossal nonetheless gels what could in lesser hands be an obscure mash-up of things that don’t ordinarily belong on the screen together. It’s a smart, ingenious, must-see monster movie.
Colossal is in UK cinemas from 19th May.