There’s a big problem with “Colossal.” Anne Hathaway plays a woman who discovers she’s in control of a giant, kaiju monster attacking Seoul, Korea. Of course, the monster is merely a metaphor, and it finds a way of ruining both Seoul and the movie.
Nacho Vigalondo’s film gets undermined at every turn specifically because of that monster-sized metaphor that makes its story unique. “Colossal” wants to be about taking control of your life and not allowing abusive relationships to get in the way, but like any monster movie, the monster is there to ruin everything.
Anne Hathaway plays Gloria, a woman who has been depressed and mooching off her boyfriend (Dan Stevens) for a full year without a job. When he kicks her out of their apartment, she returns home and finds little better to do than sleep on an air mattress in an empty room of her parents’ old, rundown house.
She’s moving through her life as if nothing matters and that she has no impact on the rest of the world. But the metaphor couldn’t be louder when Gloria finds out there’s a gigantic monster attacking Seoul, and her every movement causes the monster to mimic her and wreak havoc.
When Gloria returns home and bumps into her grade school friend Oscar (Jason Sudeikis) who never left, she doesn’t realize that her first world problems and moping are opening up old wounds. When she expresses her astonishment that a monster is attacking Korea, her boyfriend responds, “That happened nine hours ago. What have you been doing all day?” She’s so out of it that she doesn’t realize the world has quickly moved on around her.
But many of these are surface level observations too broad to be perceptive. Gloria’s condition could easily be interpreted as narcolepsy as much as alcoholism. And Vigalondo’s instinct is to play Gloria’s blunders for laughs, a residual of being a quirky indie. And the screenplay has as many gaps, lapses of logic and meandering as Gloria does. She has a nervous tick in which she scratches her head for no other reason than for her to discover that the monster is scratching its head too. And when she’s trying to reveal to Oscar that she’s the monster, she does so by dancing, a glib, facetious way of suggesting the danger she poses.
“Colossal” might’ve overcome those flaws if Hathaway’s performance had more than one move: she cups her hand over her gaping mouth and gawks in disbelief, then she slumps in dreary agony. She was far better in “Rachel Getting Married.” That film, by the late-great Jonathan Demme, was also about an alcoholic depressive who didn’t realize how her erratic behavior affected those at her sister’s wedding. But Hathaway made herself confidently snarky and bitingly sarcastic with far more range than she shows in “Colossal.” And absent a giant monster serving as a blatant metaphor for everything, that performance and that film felt far more real.
In fact if the movie stayed focused to just allowing Gloria to grow as a person, “Colossal” would feel a lot more grounded. Midway through the film, Vigalondo takes up an aggressively feminist agenda by turning Sudiekis into a vindictive control freak and crazy ex-boyfriend. The message isn’t unfounded, but it doesn’t quite fit. And Sudiekis is actually underrated in the part. He’s terse and vicious but never veers into full-on rage or madness. His congenial composure is unsettling, but it’d feel far more real if his ransom chip didn’t involve Godzilla.
“Colossal” can’t shake that irritating knowledge that a good message and thoughtful characters are trapped within a cloying sci-fi set up that wants to be offbeat and funny. Vigilando means well, but his intentions are wrecking everything in his path.