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Colossal (2016)

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Colossal / GodzillaStarring Anne Hathaway, Jason Sudeikis, Dan Stevens

Directed by Nacho Vigalondo

Screened at Fantastic Fest 2016


Since he burst onto the indie film scene with his critically revered 2007 thriller Timecrimes, Spanish filmmaker Nacho Vigalondo has long been a favorite on the film festival circuit. It’s no wonder then that his latest film, Colossal, which marks a great shift in cinematic scope for the director, received the closing night slot at this year’s Fantastic Fest. Despite snagging mainstream superstar talent Anne Hathaway as his lead in the film, Vigalondo’s latest offering does not find the director “going Hollywood,” however; Colossal is pure Vigalondo through and through, a quirky, unpredictable film that never pulls any punches as it proudly wears its peculiar, cross-genre sensibilities with pride.

Colossal tells the story of Gloria (Hathaway), an unemployed thirtysomething with a drinking problem whose life gets thrown a curveball after her fed up boyfriend, Tim (Stevens), kicks her out of his New York City apartment. With no money and nowhere to go, Gloria is forced to leave the big city and return to life in suburbia, schlepping a bag’s worth of belongings back to her sleepy hometown. Upon returning, Gloria is reunited with childhood friend Oscar (Sudeikis), a bar owner who decides to give Gloria a chance to get back on her feet by hiring her part time at his locale. As Gloria’s drinking remains problematic in her new line of work, her life is further–and inexplicably–complicated by the materialization of a destructive monster in the South Korean capital of Seoul. For reasons beyond her comprehension, Gloria discovers that there is, in fact, a strange connection between the monster and her downward spiral; and with Oscar’s help, she vows to find out what this is exactly before things get even more out of hand.

First and foremost, anyone going into Colossal expecting “Anne Hathaway does kaiju” will be sorely disappointed. Vigalondo’s film contains elements of science fiction and action and most definitely features a kick-ass monster to boot, but it is unmistakably a character study above all. There are extremely effective comedic elements notably woven throughout his taut script, but even those often serve to highlight the truly distressing state of the film’s troubled characters. Moments of laughter turn to moments of sadness and then to outright discomfort rather quickly in a few of Colossal‘s stronger scenes, a characteristic that exemplifies the rollercoaster of often confusing emotion Vigalondo seeks to present here.

Hathaway’s Gloria is a pitiable and, at times, frustrating mess of a protagonist; but despite the fact that she will grate on some, it is difficult not to root for her in all of her emotionally disjointed glory. Hathaway approaches Gloria with a mix of vulnerability and bullheaded recklessness, delivering one of her strongest and most nuanced performances to date. Jason Sudeikis is also a refreshing treat here and will likely surprise many in his turn as Oscar, a character who is equally layered and certainly holds a number of surprises of his own. Together, Hathaway and Sudeikis play off of each other organically, and then frenetically, their increasingly complicated interactions growing more amped as the monster’s threat grows greater. On that note, Colossal‘s massive creature is a joy to watch, eliciting the type of awe often inspired by cinema’s greatest kaiju monsters while also being imbued by Vigalondo with an offbeat sense of peculiar humanity.

While genre enthusiasts will no doubt love the more fantastical aspects of Colossal, the film’s greatest strengths ultimately lie in its script. It is a rich one with deeply emotional material, but it is also peppered with moments of surprising levity given the subject matter. Though Colossal expectedly examines components of addiction in a number of allegorical ways, it is also never insultingly obvious; this aspect of the story is just the tip of the iceberg actually, and the film most definitely does not head where you think it will. The more nuanced examinations of various other topics in Colossal–from morality to self-loathing to personality disorders–solidify Vigalondo’s latest as a truly complex journey through a number of emotions, many of which will definitely conflict at times in viewers.

For that particular reason, Vigalondo’s wholly unique story may not be easily digested by all. There are a few tonal shifts that are certainly jarring on a first viewing, and audiences expecting more traditional resolutions in Gloria’s story may no doubt be frustrated by the turns the film takes. Love it or loathe it, however, it is Colossal‘s ingenious diversion from standard “addiction drama” tropes that make for an undeniably singular moviegoing experience. The film is certainly not for everyone, but it finds Vigalondo making all of the right kinds of waves at this point in his career, and I for one hope they are large enough to prompt more widespread awareness of and praise for the visionary auteur’s work. After a monster of a film like this, he most certainly has earned it.

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