Ever since Nacho Vigalondo’s debut feature film Time Crimes came out, he’s been a director to keep an eye on. Among TIFF festival guides, the director’s latest Colossal was frequently named as one of the films piquing people’s interests and after catching a screening today, it’s easy to understand why.
Colossal is a very unusual film. Frequently billed as a rom-com sci-fi, the film stars Anne Hathaway as a lovable drunk named Gloria whose life is basically in ruins when the film begins. After a seemingly out of place opening sequence involving a little girl and a giant monster in Seoul, Korea, the action jumps 25 years later to New York where Gloria returns home after a night of hard-partying to find her British boyfriend (Dan Stevens) at his wits end. He’s packed her bags and wants her gone. Cue the title card.
The proximity of that first scene to Gloria’s domestic problems isn’t revealed for a while. First she has to return to her abandoned childhood home upstate, encounter her old friend Oscar (Jason Sudeikis) who is clearly still harbouring a crush, and continue getting loaded. One great aspect of the film is the fact that it doesn’t take shortcuts when it comes to Gloria’s alcoholism. She frequently wakes up in odd places, in uncomfortable positions, with little to no recollection of what she said the night before. She’s a character worth rooting for because she is a realistic human being with faults and Hathaway, also a producer of the film, gives Gloria an easy charm that helps carry the film through some of its shakier moments. The less said about her atrocious wig, however, the better – that thing may be the most horrific thing I’ve seen at TIFF this year.
The plot kicks in when Gloria wakes up to the horrifying news that a monster (the same one glimpsed in the opening scene) has gone on a rampage through the streets of Seoul. Eventually it is revealed that there is an unexpected connection between Gloria and the monster in a scene that is played for delightfully wacky laughs by Hathaway. In this first half there’s a fun, almost childish enthusiasm to the proceedings that someone on Twitter rightfully suggested is a combination of Rachel Getting Married and Pacific Rim (picture that if you will).
It’s when things take a dark turn in the second half that Colossal loses its footing. Gloria and Oscar’s relationship to the monster is further complicated and the film eventually slides into a murky examination of gender, power and responsibility. While there are still amusing moments, the latter half of the film doesn’t have the same balance of tone and the result is a grim, abusive turn for the worst. Credit Sudeikis (who, full confession, I’m not a huge fan of) for nailing Oscar’s evolution from nice guy to asshole, even if the nature of his insecurity is a little too simplistic to satisfy.
It’s undeniable that Colossal is a more complicated and messy film in its second half, particularly the last act, which overstays its welcome by delaying the dramatic confrontation for far too long. The result is an interesting, albeit very divisive genre mash-up (several members of my audience walked out, which is something I hadn’t seen before). It would be disingenuous, however, not to praise Vigalondo for being ambitious. Colossal is an imperfect film, but it’s unlike anything I’ve seen and among a sea of sad imitations, the film is a refreshing attempt to do something new. When the comedy, sci-fi and the social commentary are aligned, the film is an unexpected treat and even when things go off the rails a bit, the film is eminently watchable, especially for Hathaway’s dedicated performance (albeit not her atrocious wig).
* It should be noted that Colossal is much better suited for audiences who like character driven comedy/dramas with a sci-fi twist rather than hardcore genre fans of Time Crimes or Vigalondo’s contributions in ABCs of Death or V/H/S.