So get this… Anne Hathaway plays an alcoholic who loses her boyfriend and her apartment and moves back into her old neighborhood, where she gets a job at a bar and rekindles her friendship with an old schoolyard chum, played by Jason Sudeikis. Also, every time she walks across a children’s playground at a specific time of day a giant monster attacks South Korea.
When people complain that Hollywood keeps making the same movies over and over and over again, I’m not sure that they’re actually asking for Colossal, but at least now they have it. This is a head-scratcher of a movie if ever I’ve seen one. Seventy-five percent of Colossal plays like an underdeveloped 1990s indie dramedy about moving back home and finding yourself, twenty-five percent of it is a high-concept sci-fi movie, and it’s all a jumbled, albeit intriguing metaphor for various unhealthy behaviors.
Nacho Vigalondo’s screenplay for Colossal alludes to a variety of meaningful interpretations for all of this fantasy mumbo-jumbo. The people of Seoul are helpless collateral damage in the messed up morning routines of oblivious fuck-ups who live all the way across the world. You can take that as a critique of American foreign policy, or our place in the global economy, or just as a generic allegory for the unexpected ramifications of getting drunk and making an ass out of yourself. Later, as Anne Hathaway’s character makes a stumbling attempt to right the wrongs she’s caused, the plot veers into darker directions and the kaiju plot begins to relate to more intimate and disturbing issues like abusive relationships and the grotesqueries of male privilege.
It’s impressive that any film, particularly one as unique as Colossal, can support so many deeper meanings simultaneously. But it would be a heck of a lot more impressive if Colossal were a better film. The acting ranges from fine to outstanding – with Anne Hathaway, predictably, qualifying as “outstanding” – but the pacing is finicky, with repeated scenes of generic socializing taking center stage, defiantly hogging the limelight from the film’s more interesting ideas, and I’m not just talking about all that kaiju insanity. (It’s obvious that the monsters aren’t the “point” of Colossal any more than the missing $40,000 is the “point” of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho.)
It takes a long time for the fantasy elements of Colossal to kick in and the film isn’t terribly interesting until they finally do. Up until that point it covers familiar dramatic territory without much in the way of genuine insight or humor. Once the plot finally does kick in, the film gets obsessed with the particulars how these monsters keep popping up but the explanations don’t so much “make sense” as “get unnecessarily complicated.” The minutiae of how the conceit works is eventually explained in a way that’s so arch and silly that one almost wonders if never explaining it at all would have been less of a distraction.
Colossal is an ambitious and inventive motion picture, but it seems to be fighting itself. The small-scale relationship drama and the ambitious fantastical elements aren’t terribly well-defined as individual elements, and for too much of the film they are kept separate from one another. When Colossal works, it works because of the unusual and unexpected connections between the banal and the bizarre. But the banal is too banal and the bizarre is too bizarre, and they don’t connect nearly often enough.
In other words, the idea of Colossal is a heck of a lot better than the execution, but if any film deserves some bonus points for originality, this is it.
Thirteen Must-See Films at TIFF 2016:
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William Bibbiani (everyone calls him ‘Bibbs’) is Crave’s film content editor and critic. You can hear him every week on The B-Movies Podcast and Canceled Too Soon, and watch him on the weekly YouTube series Most Craved, Rapid Reviews and What the Flick. Follow his rantings on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.