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Colossal: Big Ideas, Bad Execution
Written Review by David Carter
Movies are inherently a balancing act. You’re trying to balance a ton of disparate elements and hope that the scales don’t tip into something unfavorable. Whether it be something broad like balancing the macro elements of a genre mash-up (action/comedy, sci-fi/horror, romance/drama, etc), or the specific micro aspects that can be applied to any movie like performances, tone, and pacing, it all requires a deft hand to make sure the movie doesn’t have any unintentionally sudden shifts or interrupted flow. Things like this can bring a movie with an otherwise promising premise and desperately needed subject matter to its knees. This is the fate suffered by Nacho Vigalondo fourth feature length outing, Colossal. A kooky genre mash-up that wants to put a supremely flawed character at the forefront while simultaneously taking aim at one of the most privileged groups in society today, but can’t quite figure out how to do both with the grace and attention needed to pull off the feat.
Colossal opens with a prologue set in early 90’s Seoul, South Korea. Two little girls are playing in the dark of night when suddenly, on the horizon, a giant kaiju appears out of nowhere, almost as if it blinked into existence. Smash cut to 25 years later, and we’re in modern day New York City. The orchestra continues to crescendo it’s theme originally meant for the entrance of the kaiju, but here it’s punctuated with entrance of another destructive force. That force is Gloria (played by a sympathetic Anne Hathaway) stumbling into her boyfriend Tim’s (a flustered and fed up Dan Stevens) apartment after another night of binge drinking and partying. It’s a familiar scene to Tim, they’ve done this dance before. So many times in fact that he lists out the steps for how the argument and criticisms will go and how they’ll do it all over again tomorrow. Gloria isn’t oblivious to this reality, she’d just prefer to ignore it. They both come off as people with things to work out in their lives. Gloria is for lack of a better term: a trainwreck. She’s fallen into a cycle of destructive behavior and denial but at the same time she’s lost her job as an online writer and recognizes there’s a problem. Tim is slightly codependent and seemingly short tempered but it’s understandable given the circumstances. It’s the last straw for Tim and he unceremoniously decides to break up and toss Gloria out of his apartment. Gloria lands in her small midwest hometown, living in her unfurnished childhood home. As she walks through town she bumps into an old childhood friend Oscar (Jason Sudeikis, who gives a twistedly great performance) who is now running his father’s bar. After catching up, introducing her to his friends Joel (dumb and generically handsome Austin Stowell) and Garth (the always welcome Tim Blake Nelson), and a hearty amount of drinking, Oscar offers Gloria a job at his bar. However, there’s a few hiccups. For one the monster who appeared in Seoul 25 years ago has returned, this time causing much more destruction, and Gloria is directly linked to it. Even scarier however is that over the course of the movie it is revealed that Oscar might be the bigger force of destruction in everyone’s lives. Especially Gloria’s
The relationship between Oscar and Gloria is what the movie is actually about, the monster stuff being a physical manifestation of the metaphors of the movie. Meaning, Gloria’s destruction of Seoul as a giant monster while she’s drunk is a metaphor for how she hurts those around her without really realizing it. She doesn’t feel the effects of the destruction she causes and even when she does (In the case of a missile being launched at her head) it feels like annoying pest buzzing around her. Oscar however, is what makes this movie so fascinating. It’s not just about Gloria as the simultaneous protagonist and antagonist of her own story about recovery and finding out who she is, it’s a story about men who take advantage and psychologically (and in the end physically) abuse these women and lash out at the world around them.
Oscar is a “Nice Guy”. You know the type. The guy who appears to be charming and affable (sometimes despite his looks), but underneath there’s something darker and meaner. This can come out in public if they’re rubbed the wrong way, or they’ve been drinking, but it usually manifests in private. They go to the internet and troll people (most of the time women) to make up for their own miserable existence (they are deeply unhappy people), or they do and say things behind people’s backs that are at best, annoying lies and worst can bring people’s lives crashing down around them. “Nice Guys” will also attach themselves to women they’re attracted to. They won’t ask them out because of the fear they’ll be rejected and embarrassed, so instead they’ll become a confidant. It’s not quite the friend zone (another whole big bag of garbage entitlement) but something more sinister. Someone who’ll take on the role of best friend and shoulder to cry on when the woman is at her lowest points. All the while trying to manipulate them by gaslighting and tearing them down to build them back up. It’s a form a psychological control. The abused can never find their bearings and because the abuser has made themselves such a vital part of the abused lives, they can keep them under their thumb for whatever. If the woman has problems of her own; great! Easier for them to take advantage of them constantly.
This is Oscars exact playbook in the film. He gives Gloria a job, gives her trucks full of things to furnish her house, becomes her drinking buddy, and white knights (“defends her honor”) at the drop of a hat. At the same time all those things have strings attached. The job is just so he can keep tabs on her and keep her boozed up. While she’s drunk and hungover she can’t remember whether or not she asked for boatloads of furniture or not, but it makes him look good. The defense of her honor only happens when good looking but oblivious Joel moves in for a kiss a little too early (Gloria had been sending consensual signals, he just jumped the gun) and Gloria pulls away, Oscar takes it on himself to shame and toss out Joel, but it’s from a place of jealousy not righteousness. Jason Sudeikis plays the role perfectly. He uses his handsome but not gorgeous every man looks to play with the audience sympathies at the beginning of the film. It makes the switch (more reveal) from down on his luck hometown boy to raging psychopath that much more effective. When more supernatural wrinkles get tossed into the mix, the metaphor extends past Gloria’s own hang-ups and shows us how terrible and merciless a man like this can be. The movie lets us know that the power he holds is dangerous but fleeting once he’s made to feel as small as he actually is.
This is all incredible and I am very happy movies about this subject are made at this scale, but unfortunately it never gels as a cohesive work. The genre mash up of Rom-com/Kaiju movie never really settles in. The jokes fall flat and tonal shifts between drama and comedy don’t work. Gloria’s dealing with her own issues are sidelined and made a punchline at the end of the movie. The script never seems to find a way to deal with her internal and external struggles at the same time. And for as good as Sudeikis and his character are, the movie has him become a monster at the drop of a dime, when the reality of a person like this is a slower and scarier process. It’s part of a larger question about socially conscious genre movies of the past and present. Does your movie get a free pass simply for addressing an issue (especially a little understood one like this) in a sensitive and clever manner? Obviously movies like Get Out and The World’s End (a great genre mash-up that is an incredible example of the protagonist-as-antagonist, and the alcoholism metaphor writ large) walk both lines of being informative and well crafted at the same time. Colossal only succeeds at the former, but the subject matter will be so important to some people, they’ll view the movie in a completely different and more positive light than I did. I don’t have an answer to the question posed as a whole but I think it’s important that a movie juggle both these goals in the hopes that it will reach a wider audience and maybe even affect the very people it’s criticizing. In that way it’s harder to write off as a bad movie.
I want more big weird genre movies being made. I want more movies about abusers and women taking stands against them. I just want them to be as good as the ideas are big. Colossal isn’t a waste of time by any means and I hope it reaches the right people, but it’s underwhelming and half baked. Hopefully another movie in a similar vein will come along and succeed where this one fails.