If nothing else, “Colossal” is something else, a movie apart from any other you are likely to see this year. That is not to suggest “Colossal” is entirely original or radical since it very much traffics in familiar genres and tropes, marrying a returning-to-your-hometown-with-your-tail-between-your-legs movie to a Godzilla vs. Whoever movie. “Colossal” is something like if Reese Witherspoon of “Sweet Home Alabama” was forced to reckon with the error of her ways by being pitted in an intimate yet enormous battle against a Kaiju. It’s as if writer/director Nacho Vilagondo took complaints directed at Gareth Edwards crack at “Godzilla” of monsters overshadowing humans and decided to turn them around by making the humans the monsters, “Monsters Are Due on Maple Street”, maybe, just more literal.
The movie opens with Gloria (Anne Hathaway) returning home after an all-night bender, which, we infer from the reaction of her boyfriend Tim (Dan Stevens), is not the first time this has happened. On his way out the door, Tim gives Gloria the afternoon to pack her things and go. She will, but first, as she sits on the sofa, gob-smacked about her sudden change in fortune, a few of her friends barrel into the apartment, kicking off some sort of mid-morning party, taking the scene out on a comic note rather than a sorrowful one, indicative of writer/director Nacho Vigalando’s preferred narrative maneuver of the Story Reversal. He loves the Story Reversal. The ensuing film, for whatever qualms may emerge, and there are a few, remains fully engaging by virtue of unremitting changes of direction.
Gloria’s move is to go home, moving onto an air mattress on the floor of her empty childhood home, and running into old friend Oscar (Jason Sudeikis) who now owns a small townie bar and gives Gloria a job. Their relationship emits the air of the Road Not Taken, one which will be explored after hours in back of the bar over innumerable longneck bottles of beer. Their jokey, feeling-each-other-out behavior suggests a familiar rom com template. But Vigalondo is quick to turn that template against itself. These drunken powwows gradually grow darker and meaner as all those beers consumed, which usually just provide something for actors to do onscreen, become integral, a genuine rendering of the issues alcohol abuse can cause.
Granted, even if it seriously considers alcoholism, the reasons for Gloria’s dependency remain somewhat nebulous, emblemized in that empty home which functions as a blank spot of her past. She has a past with Oscar too, though it is evoked only in a few brief flashes, left to be cultivated more in their behavior which begins as flirtatious before metamorphosing into something much more ominous, grievances aired and then acted upon. As an actor, Sudeikis has generally just skidded by on his deadpan one-liners, but here he gradually re-purposes that deadpan for something more insidious as his character’s jealousy rises so that, by the end, and in what specific ways I will not reveal, Oscar becomes truly frightening. Hathaway, meanwhile, seems to be informing her role with notes of her real life personality, or at least the public’s interpretation of her real life personality, as she wields a charm that feels as genuine as it is exploitative, and which eventually collapses into anguish before she authors a redemption that is not pat since she refuses to sacrifice any manic edge.
Their relationship becomes central to what initially seems like an oddly peripheral story in which a giant monster is on the loose in Seoul, eventually squaring off against a robot adversary, primarily shown through television news reports that people gather at Oscar’s bar to watch with bated breath. How this connects to Gloria and Oscar is best left unsaid, though there are assuredly some gaps in logic relating to its precise explanation while the movie also has no interest in seeing any of this from the Seoul’s perspective, reducing its people to mere narrative collateral damage. These are not idle complaints. Then again, there is a selfishness inherent in Gloria and Oscar that underscores the movie’s limited viewpoint, a selfishness that Gloria eventually finds the wherewithal to deal with and that Oscar lets percolate until it erupts.
The precise specifics of the eruption and their resolution shall remain unmentioned, and though their effect might have been even more sensational with additional backstory, perhaps bringing the idea of inherent rage within all of us truly home, there is nonetheless something intensely visceral about the way it plays out. The conclusion is sort of a reimagining of “King Kong” with Ann Darrow in the position of the titular ape and the titular ape in the position of Ann Darrow. And while that might make no sense with the full context, all I can tell you is the weirdly lyrical beauty it conjures and how in those moments all the aforementioned flaws dissolved into dust.