‘Colossal’ is a Towering Subversion of Genre

GameStop, Inc.

Colossal

The conventions of genre cinema have an ability to use familiar tropes as a means to explore different topics through the lens of the improbable. That’s the basic idea behind Nacho Vigalondo’s Colossal, which exploits the genre of kaiju monsters, such as Godzilla, for a fascinating character study that explores feminist themes of independence in a twisted comedic twist on the monster movie. Colossal isn’t easy to define as it weaves between genres, bobbing and weaving between comedy, drama, and science fiction.

When we first encounter Anne Hathaway’s Gloria, the character is a wreck. She’s still partially drunk from a night of alcoholic excess and her personal stagnation has taken its toll on her relationship with Tim (Dan Stevens). The disappointed boyfriend ejects her from their New York City apartment, prompting the struggling to return to her hometown. Shortly after her arrival, Gloria reconnects with her childhood friend Oscar (Jason Sudeikis), who owns and operates a bar. Oscar is welcoming to Gloria and provides her with furniture for her barren childhood home and offers her a job as a waitress in the bar. However, working in a bar isn’t the best for Gloria’s predilection for alcoholic excess, with Oscar and a couple of barflies (played by Tim Blake Nelson and Austin Stowell) often staying behind and drinking well into the morning after the bar closes to the public.

On the other side of the world, strange occurrences are happening South Korea. At the same time every evening, a giant monster appears and wreaks havoc across the city of Seoul. The unexplained phenomenon is all anyone can talk about. But soon Gloria realizes some uncanny resemblances between her actions and the motions that monstrous kaiju makes while towering over the South Korean capital. Not only must Gloria try to make sense of her life of chaos and booze, but she must also figure out how it is that she may be the very monster terrorizing the Asian nation on the other side of the world.

Gloria is a fascinating character as written by Vigalondo and performed by Hathaway. This is a character who is living in a mess of her own making, a colossal fuck-up on a downward spiral. It takes some bizarre phenomenon for Gloria to approach anything resembling introspection, and through it the character gains a strength that she was previously unaware she had. Hathaway brings a strong comedic sense to this character, and the actress is often able to garner laughs through a simple facial expression. Where Gloria becomes a great character is through her evolution that sees her shunning those around her who want to assert their will over her. At a certain point, Gloria won’t be defined by the perception of the men that surround her, which is the greater struggle that she must overcome.

Conversely, Jason Sudeikis gives a performance that runs opposite to Hathaway. At first you really think that Sudeikis’ Oscar has his life together and is comfortable with himself. But as the personal tension grows between him and Gloria, exacerbated by the kaiju happenings in Seoul, a dark side to the typically affable Sudeikis arises, making this one of the more layered performances the actor has ever given. It creates a dynamic between these two characters that results in an emotional clash that plays out on two fronts, one as a conflict between two people and the other as titanic kaiju warring over the city of Seoul.

For those expecting Colossal to play out like some grand kaiju battle out of Pacific Rim will be sorely disappointed. Nacho Vigalondo does insert his moments of kaiju action, though it’s not these all-out battles between brawling robots and monsters. It’s an imaginative little play on the genre’s conventions which also explores how such events would play out with the modern news cycle and social media. There are a number of genuinely comical moments with the kaiju action, and the social media reactions lead to even more comical moments that feel rooted in reality. The kaiju aspects of Colossal are entirely in service of a strong story rooted in character, using genre as a means to explore themes of dependence and independence.

Colossal is darkly comic in its approach of using giant monsters to explore personal themes and it is consistently entertaining and engaging. Nacho Vigalondo has repeatedly proven himself as a filmmaker that is capable of bringing the most out of his genre explorations and Colossal may very well be his finest work yet. There’s also an alluring thrill to the fractured personality that Anne Hathaway brings to life, one that sees the actress shunning her typical screen persona in favor of something more layered. Hathaway’s Gloria is battle all sorts of inner-demons in Colossal, but as we see those demons sometimes manifest themselves in unusual, entertaining ways.

Colossal
  • Overall Score
4

Summary

A darkly comic and insightful exploration of genre, Nacho Vigalondo’s Colossal uses the towering monsters of kaiju films to tell the story of Anne Hathaway’s Gloria as she tries to gain control of her life in the midst of a struggle between dependence and independence.

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