What small character drama isn’t spiced up with giant monsters rampaging through Seoul?
DIRECTOR: Nacho Vigalondo
PRODUCERS: Nicolas Chartier, Zev Foreman, Dominic Rustam, Nahikari Ipina, Shawn Williamson
WRITER: Nacho Vigalondo
GENRE: Science fiction dramedy
INITIAL RELEASE: April 7, 2017
RUNNING TIME: 110 minutes
STARRING: Anne Hathaway, Jason Sudeikis, Dan Stevens, Austin Stowell, Tim Blake Nelson
You know, in this day and age of “been there, done that” cinema, it’s often challenging to come up with ideas that feel genuinely fresh. Indeed, I am fully convinced there really aren’t any ideas anyone has now that can’t just be described as “blank meets” blank”. Of course, that’s not at all a bad thing; on the contrary, sometimes “blank meets blank” is exactly the kind of thing you’re looking for. Well, I have some good news for anyone who ever thought, “I’d really like to see a movie that’s quirky indie drama meets monster movie”, because Colossal to scratch your itch…your really, really, weird itch.
Colossal follows Gloria (Hathaway), a once-famous writer turned seemingly hopeless alcoholic burnout, who gets kicked out of her uppity boyfriend Tim’s (Stevens) apartment after the latest in a countless number of late-night benders. Travelling back to her hometown, Gloria reconnects with her childhood friend Oscar (Sudeikis), and in the process makes a shocking discovery: she is somehow controlling the actions of a giant monster that is terrorizing the city of Seoul in South Korea.
No really, that’s the movie, I swear.
As absurd as it sounds, Colossal is really not as goofy or farcical as it premise could very easily make it. In fact, Colossal is actually remarkably, and pleasingly, restrained in the way it handles its core conceit, and the result is really closer to a small character-driven indie dramedy that just so happens to have giant monsters in it, and a tremendously engaging one at that. Despite clocking in at close to two hours, I was gripped from start to finish, in no small part due to how many surprising turns the film takes, and how much it does with clearly very little. It was clear in watching Colossal that writer/director Nacho Vigalondo had a very clear vision of exactly what he wanted to get out of his script, his actors, and the film itself and it really shows, even in the moments where that visions seems to falter.
I think what impressed me more than anything in Colossal was Vigalondo’s clear talent for really efficient and engaging visual story telling. The premise suggests that a lot that goes on would take some ‘splaining, but Vigalondo’s script cuts through all the moments of potentially clunky, and dull exposition with incredible ease, either handling it through really entertaining naturalistic scenes or really well-executed moments of visual story-telling. I realised as I left the theater that for a film that explains relatively little, I had an very clear understanding of everything I needed to, which was a pleasant change of pace from everything else I’ve seen recently that is significantly more exposition-laden. That’s not to say the rest of Colossal’s script lacks for quality, and pretty much every part of it was really well handled and sharp. Dialogue is witty, and organic, and there is an incredible attention to detail in setting things up and paying things off that makes many of Colossal’s later moments incredibly satisfying. Although I should warn up-front that Colossal definitely has a “plot of conveniences”…and a lot of conveniences and coincidences at that. This aspect of the film was definitely distracting, but ultimately not overly detracting since the film’s heart, and the core of what makes it work, really transcends the more minor nit-picking aspects of plot contrivances, which are hard to avoid anyway with such a bizarre premise.
What is at Colossal’s core and at its heart is actually a surprisingly simple and straightforward story, one that unflinchingly tackles some pretty raw and sensitive cultural issues, particularly as it relates to dangerous and often incredibly destructive nature of toxic masculinity and Colossal rarely pulls its punches in that regard. Its at times funny, but often just as much so confronting and legitimately scary, but in a very real and grounded way that actually has little to do with Gloria’s mind-controlled monster. Its these story and thematic elements that really allow Colossal to transcend its plot foibles with so much more ease than other films, since it really works as well (if not better) on a metaphorical than on a literal level. The story is anchored almost entirely on the strength of both Gloria and Oscar as characters, and they both excel in that regard. Both Gloria and Oscar are impressively layered characters that by the film’s end feel almost heartrendingly real. It’s once again to the credit of Vigalondo’s clarity of vision that both character’s arcs weave perfectly into the story’s core thematic drivers.
The way that Vigalondo easily weaves this very grounded story into the more fantastical elements of the premise shows his keen understanding of his own work that not every director and writer often shows, even if some of the film’s bigger climatic moments felt like they stumbled in places. As I alluded to up top, Colossal is the epitome of how taking two seemingly disparate ideas and marrying them together can produce something that feels really fresh and original.
The other big surprise for me in Colossal was Jason Sudeikis, who ended giving a true show-stealer of a performance. That’s not to take away from the rest of the film’s compact cast: Hathaway was her usual great self, as were the supporting cast. But with Sudeikis, it was not just his great performance, but the sheer pleasantly jarring experience of seeing him play so against type, and do a really amazing job of it at the same time. Comedic actors aren’t often given the opportunity to display their dramatic chops, and even when they are they’re not often given the credit they’re due (Jim Carey, anyone?), so it was really awesome to see Sudeikis doing exactly that and killing it in the process.
For all the praise I’ve heaped on it, though, Colossal does have some minor fault. The plot I mentioned, but I also thought that, in spite of having such a small cast, Colossal made oddly little use of its little group of characters. This is particularly true of Joel (Stowell), whose character seems set up to have a larger role in the film’s plot and story later down the line, but (without spoiling too much), doesn’t really end up doing anything. While it may have undercut the film somewhat if he did on a thematic level, it was still odd that he was set up that way if it wasn’t going to lead too much of anything. There’s also a smattering of moments where there’s some real jackknife turns with certain characters that were a little jarring for me- particularly with Oscar, although I can’t really say much more without taking a trip to Spoiler-Town. Also, though Colossal ostensibly seems to wear the “comedy” tag in all its marketing and promotional material, its really far more accurate to call it a dramedy- and one, which is a little heavier on the drama and the comedy. This isn’t necessarily a downside for me, but for anyone expecting goofy comedy hi-jinks, things hit a point where there’s not too much comedy to be had.
On the whole though, Colossal is a true delight: a unashamedly bizarre premise wrapped in a meticulously crafted tale that’s timely, has a lot of heart, and feels really fresh in a time where “fresh” in cinema is at a premium. Even if it has its share of inconsistencies, Colossal’s strengths far outweigh its weakness. Like I said up top, if “character-driven indie drama meets mosnter movie” floats your boat, then Colossal is a much watch piece of weird cinema.