'Colossal' - Review - Chris at the Pictures

Saturday, 27 May 2017

'Colossal' - Review

★ ★ ★ ½ 

Far from neglecting the trappings of either monumental blockbuster or dry satirical comedy, Colossal wears its bizarre premise proudly on its sleeve. Largely, it’s all the better for it. Anne Hathaway plays Gloria, an alcoholic who is kicked out by her boyfriend, Tim (a fantastically clipped Dan Stevens), and heads back to her old hometown. Waking from a particularly rough night, Gloria turns on the TV to find a giant monster has trampled over the city of Seoul. But that’s not the weirdest discovery: after watching the creature for several days, Gloria realises it’s imitating her drunken movements as she wanders through the small town’s playground, even performing her unique nervous tic.

There are many things I really like about this bizarre curiosity of a film, even the bits that don’t quite gel. I love that it almost evades marketing in any way. Oh, the poster’s rather great (and will probably adorn a rather snazzy steelbook someday), but watching the trailers try to effectively echo its offbeat combination of crowd-pleaser and arthouse oddity is almost as fun as watching the film itself. I also love that director Nacho Vigalondo gets Jason Sudeikis to play against type so deceptively. He’s playing a childhood friend of Gloria’s, Oscar, who offers her a job at his bar and tries to help her get back on her feet. On a surface level that might not seem much of a stretch, but the role grows into something far different by the third act. I’m not sure I totally bought what that role becomes, but it certainly adds spice and allows for some great glaring between he and Hathaway.

The whole film has a blindfolded taste test feeling that brought me back to watching student previews during my early uni years, such as The Double, Frank, or Life After Beth. These were films that offered not only a break from packed multiplexes and sweaty club nights, but an anticipation that comes only from something deliberately different. ‘Anne Hathaway is a kaiju’ now rests alongside ‘Jesse Eisenberg has a clone’ and ‘Michael Fassbender has a papier mâché head’ in my personal canon of ‘Strange Premise, Stranger Film’.

And Colossal is strange. At times delivered as mumblecore drama, at others improv comedy, the film demonstrates remarkable reservation with its monster stomping. The rules of Gloria’s connection with the creature are established without contrived exposition, it’s something that we discover with the characters, and there’s no better guide than Hathaway. I’ve sorely missed her on-screen since Interstellar (I never caught The Intern, nor Alice Through the Looking Glass), and the wait has been more than worthwhile. I’m honestly not sure who else could carry the film through its few misjudged moments, or make me believe in a character who can show remorse for people thousands of miles away but seems incapable of calling her boyfriend back to say sorry.

It would be relatively easy for Colossal to thrive purely on Hathaway and Sudeikis’ grimacing or its water cooler premise alone, but it’s got far more to offer than that. The monster’s appearances, perpendicular to Gloria’s struggles with alcoholism, can be read in any number of ways. Whether it’s the not-so-subtle comment on self-destruction, what our idiocy does to people we’ll never even meet, or the somewhat deeper allusions to power as a corruptive force. One could even read the film as a comment on (stick with me here) what America does and doesn’t contribute cinematically to the rest of the world. Indie films (like the drama inhabited by Hathaway, Sudeikis and Stevens) rarely make it across the border, with US cinema represented abroad only by Hollywood behemoths (like the rampaging monster swatting helicopters from the air).

These themes do get a little lost amongst the clatter of the climax, but previous exploration of them was so restrained that I forgave it. I’m unsure whether these final moments exist purely keep mainstream audiences in their seats, but as a gentle nudge into summer tentpole season, it worked. Colossal should be appraised for refusing to skimp on shiny spectacle, but never letting it blind a genuine harmony of digital bombast and dramatic buoyancy.