Films of the year: Colossal (7th place)
There are some movies that come out with a bang and rapidly fade from memory; there are others that appear to sneak in and out of cinemas with barely a whisper, but are still talked about years after the fact. Colossal, at least when compared to the big hitters of 2017, is, we suspect, one of those latter movies. It didn’t exactly tear up the box office, but it’s the kind of quirky, deceptively smart film we’ll be thinking and enthusing about in pubs for a long time to come.
On the face of it, this one-of-a-kind kaiju comedy-drama isn’t what you’d call under the radar: it’s from a talented cult director (Nacho Vigalondo, who made the superb Timecrimes), and in Anne Hathaway, it features one of Hollywood’s most recognisable stars. But then again, maybe Colossal was just a little too off-kilter and too spiky to enjoy the mainstream success of a big comedy: this is, after all, a giant monster movie that also happens to explore such dark themes as alcoholism and destructive relationships.
Indeed, what’s so special about Colossal is that, in lesser hands, it could have been a one-joke comedy vehicle for, say, Adam Sandler and Rob Schneider (rated PG-13): a down-on-their-luck protag discovers they have a some kind of psychic connection to a giant monster stomping about in Korea, and hilarious antics ensue. It’s a great premise on its own, and the rest of the movie might have written itself; instead, director-writer Nacho Vigalondo uses it as a jumping-off point for a story with far more weight and impact than a one-line description might imply.
Hathaway’s on fine, dishevelled form as Gloria, a 30-something who loses her job, breaks up with her boyfriend, Tim (Dan Stevens) and retreats to her home town in the middle of nowhere. Sleeping on a mattress and making ends meet by doing a bit of bar work, Gloria meets an old flame, the bar’s owner, Oscar (Jason Sudeikis), and a spark of attraction flickers between the two.
So far, so standard rom-com – at least until one late-night drinking session, where Gloria realises that her drunken movements in a local park have a calamitous effect on the Korean capital, Seoul. The next morning, she wakes up to a sore head and television reports that a giant monster just stomped all over that far-away city – worryingly, at precisely the same time Gloria was in the park.
From there, Colossal’s story goes increasingly off-piste, as Gloria learns the extent of her alter-ego’s power and exactly how her connection works. At the same time, the benign-seeming Oscar starts to become more and more jealous and controlling, and when Gloria’s ex, Tim shows up, it becomes clear that he too isn’t exactly great boyfriend material. In some respects, Colossal’s like Diablo Cody/Jason Reitman’s Young Adult, joined by some delightfully low-fi monster effects work; it’s to the film’s credit that it’s also much more than that.
More than just a clever conceit, the giant monster becomes the emblem of Gloria’s addiction and self-loathing – a trait that evidently informs her questionable taste in men. It’s something of a critic’s cliche, but Colossal makes the case that real-world monsters don’t look like Godzilla – they’re more mundane, innocent-looking organisms like Oscar. Sudeikis deserves praise for what is in effect a dual performance: the average Joe nice guy he wants to present to the world, and the controlling, violent pillock he actually is.
It’s fair to say that Colossal doesn’t have the fairytale ending of your typical rom-com, but it’s just as upbeat in its own askew way: Vigalondo’s too smart to sew up all of Gloria’s manifold problems, but in delivering them a swift uppercut, the heroine’s at least found a way to confront them head-on. Clever, funny, often extremely dark – Colossal has all the makings of a cult classic.