A woman discovers that severe catastrophic events are somehow connected to the mental breakdown from which she’s suffering.
Director: Nacho Vigalondo
Writer: Nacho Vigalondo
Stars: Dan Stevens, Anne Hathaway, Jason Sudeikis
Closed captioning available.
If it weren’t for a teasing scene at the beginning and the existence of reviews like this one, you might mistake “Colossal” for a certain kind of diffident, funny-sad, exasperating drama. The kind in which a youngish adult, bruised by bad luck and bad decisions, returns to a hometown awash in nostalgia and old friends. Romance and rue, gray skies and dead leaves, whispery song lyrics over sensitively strummed guitars on the soundtrack. I don’t know about you, but I saw “Garden State” back in 2004 and don’t feel a need to revisit that particular horror.
Luckily, Nacho Vigalondo, the writer and director of “Colossal,” has a different kind of horror in store for us, and for his train-wreck heroine, an unemployed “internet writer” named Gloria. Played by Anne Hathaway with heavy bangs and a blunt disavowal of her own charm, Gloria has a taste for alcohol and an aversion to honesty. When her fed-up British boyfriend (Dan Stevens) throws her out of the New York apartment they have been sharing, she crawls back to the house of her (conveniently absent) parents in some generically semi-picturesque American place. Her pity party is interrupted by Oscar (Jason Sudeikis), who pulls up in his pickup truck and offers a ride down memory lane.
Oscar and Gloria were in elementary school together, and they catch up at the attractively run-down bar he inherited. He gives her a job, but mostly they hang out after closing time, depleting the liquid inventory with the help of a couple of other familiar small-town, indie-movie types: the bitter wiseacre (Tim Blake Nelson) and the sexy dimwit (Austin Stowell). Like I said: romance and rue, with Life Lessons and Second Chances in the forecast.
Except that … frankly, I’m reluctant to say, though the movie is, to some extent, spoiler-proofed by its loose, make-it-up-as-we-go-along structure. A giant, lizardlike creature — a kaiju, if you insist — is terrorizing Seoul, halfway around the world from wherever Oscar and Gloria are. Eventually, it will battle a giant robot. What this has to do with two self-absorbed Americans is at first baffling, then intriguing, and finally obvious. Which doesn’t ruin anything. We learned back in ninth-grade English that monsters are metaphors, and it’s an insight that never gets old.
Mr. Vigalondo, a genre swashbuckler whose oeuvre includes the hectic, Hitchcockian thriller “Open Windows,” starring Elijah Wood and Sasha Grey, has given that textbook wisdom a new spin. “Colossal” has such an easygoing, offhand vibe, and takes such pleasure in its characters’ foibles, that it camouflages its deep subject, which is rage. Gloria and Oscar only look like slackers. They are twinned — and also opposed — volcanoes of frustration and resentment. The disproportion between their personal feelings and the wanton destruction of real estate and innocent life is both comical and horrific, and also oddly persuasive. Inside each of us is a colossus with the power to smash everything to pieces.
But not everyone’s inner giant is the same. Mr. Vigalondo’s film is nowhere near as ambitious or as rigorous as Jordan Peele’s “Get Out,” but it shares that movie’s interest in using horror movie tropes to unlock heavily defended areas of social unease. Starting out as the portrait of an irresponsible woman, “Colossal” turns into a critique of male self-pity, as Gloria’s problems collide with, and are overwhelmed by, Oscar’s sense of aggrieved entitlement.
I don’t want to say too much more about how this works out, but one thing that it means is that Mr. Sudeikis, to some degree, upstages Ms. Hathaway. Both play ingeniously against type, but while she is an anti-princess from the start — with some of the thrilling unpleasantness that galvanized “Rachel Getting Married” — he takes his nice-guy persona and turns it inside out. His affable detachment, which has made him a reliable, if not always memorable, performer, slowly gives way to something darker, stranger and more interesting.
And “Colossal” itself wrings a great deal of fun — and also some genuine terror, by no means all of it monster-related — from its blithely bizarre conceit.
-A.O. Scott, NY TIMES