“Colossal” Review: Monsters and Men

Courtesy of Neon Studios

Maybe I was wrong about Anne Hathaway.

When Les Miserables was released in 2012, I was one of the only people to be frustrated with her portrayal of Fantine. It felt too melodramatic, like a mediocre high school production. Or maybe I just didn’t like it because I found her off-screen persona to be disingenuous. Regardless, I haven’t been upset about the lack of Hathaway star vehicles in the past five years. I don’t know whether I’ve changed or she has, but I can say without a doubt that she is my favorite part of Colossal. And that’s not the only surprise the movie has in store.

After being dumped by her boyfriend (Dan Stevens) for being an alcoholic mess, Gloria (Anne Hathaway) moves back to her hometown and reconnects with her childhood friend Oscar (Jason Sudeikis). Once there, a literal giant monster appears in Seoul. Very quickly, Gloria begins to suspect that she might somehow be the monster. Naturally, she is overwhelmed with the responsibility of not accidentally destroying an entire country.

If you’ve seen Colossal’s trailer, you might get the impression that it is a quirky romantic monster mash. Between Mother’s Day, Tumbledown and Sleeping with Other People, Sudeikis is an indie rom-com staple. Hathaway is also no stranger to the genre. One might expect the rest of the movie to be about Gloria finding herself, falling in love with Oscar and managing not to murder millions of people in the process.

Instead, Colossal lets the addiction vehicle fall to the wayside and focuses its energy on critiquing toxic masculinity. The two main men in the film compete for Gloria’s attention, and they both suck. Gloria’s ex is patronizing and rude. Considering that Stevens’s last film was Beauty and the Beast, you might be able to consider Colossal an unofficial sequel. Oscar starts out kind but quickly becomes controlling. He buys Gloria gifts then uses them as leverage to get Gloria to stay near him. When she’s justifiably angry, Oscar apologizes and says that he will change. Oscar is a manipulative asshole and very quickly becomes the villain.

As a result, Colossal is not a romantic film. Gloria does briefly have a romantic angle, but it’s with a meaningless character. This choice to focus on relationship abuse is a welcome one, especially with the recent release of a certain gross space romance. It gives the movie purpose and adds another layer to the monster mania metaphor. However, the development of this and subsequent plot twists is not always executed to perfection.

Writer-director Nacho Vigalondo (Open Windows) is working with a lot of great ideas, but his attempts to deploy them as a unit ultimately feel disjointed. For instance, Sudeikis does a great job in his suddenly-dramatic role, but the shift is so sudden he ends up feeling cartoonish. The dialogue is punchy, but is sometimes redundant or unnecessary. The plot points are strong, and the emotionally peaks are stunning, but the build is weak. Colossal could have lost 15-20 minutes in the editing process and be a tighter, stronger film.

With a mid-level budget, the monster effects are minimal. Gloria’s Kaiju appears in bursts, existing to punctuate the drama in her newly suburban life. Still, Cinematographer Eric Kress (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) creates some beautiful, dynamic imagery in the film. Small bursts of horror halfway across the globe are juxtaposed by the relative mundanity of Gloria’s hometown.

However, there is a strong argument to be made that Colossal trivializes South Korea as a plot device in order to enhance a Westernized plot. While South Korea is the home to many monster movies, the arrival of a kaiju might have thematically seemed more at home in a Japanese setting. Maybe this was to avoid copyright disputes. And while it is clear the filmmakers are not attempting to marginalize South Korea, there is some subtle racism here that might not be present if the monster suddenly appeared in New York. I don’t think it’s enough to derail the movie, especially because its commentary on abusive relationships is so strong, but it is something that should be acknowledged.

With echoes of Being John Malkovich, Andy Kaufman might be proud. Colossal defies genre to create one of the most unique films in the past few years. There is an imperfect sloppiness to the structure, but that’s also part of its charm. If nothing else, it made me realize how wrong I was about Anne Hathaway. At times, her performance is a little too campy, but she is also the heart and soul of this film. Building a bridge between the movie’s insanity and humanity, she creates a real, interesting character that you want to see succeed. I’m excited for Hathaway’s future on-screen appearances, giant monster or not.

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