This review originally ran in September when Colossal played the Toronto International Film Festival. We are rerunning it now that it’s in theaters.
First of all, when you’re at a film festival, there’s no way to turn down the opportunity to see a movie billed as “The Anne Hathaway Godzilla movie.” Like, impossible. After serious drama after serious drama, “The Anne Hathaway Godzilla movie” sounds like heroin to a weary movie watcher. Gimme that!
Of course, I kind of expected Colossal to be silly – most likely in a fun way, but still “silly.” I was not expecting to really, really like this movie. And I was certainly not expecting it to be this dark and twisted.
All I knew before seeing Nacho Vigalondo’s Colossal is the short little blurb the Toronto International Film Festival put out, which was basically, “as a monster attacks Seoul, a woman feels a special connection with the monster.” This sounds kind of lame. From that description, I thought maybe she could speak to the monster. That didn’t sound like a movie I would like even though I had to see it. But, no, (as we learn very early in the film so I don’t think this is a spoiler but if you are very sensitive to anything that you might think is a spoiler, this is your warning), Gloria (Hathaway) is the monster.
When the film opens, Gloria lives in New York City, but things aren’t going well: she has lost her job and she and her live-in boyfriend (Dan Stevens) are breaking up. With no other options, she moves back home into her parents’ empty house – her parents still own the house but do not live there. Soon, she runs into an old elementary school friend, Oscar (Jason Sudeikis), who hires her at his local bar. Things are swell!
Then a Godzilla-looking creature attacks Seoul, which becomes a global story. Buildings are destroyed, thousands of people have been killed. But, just as quick as it showed up, the monster disappears. Everyone is glued to the television set to find out if and when the monster will return. It’s obviously all anyone is talking about. (There’s a pretty funny moment when Gloria, in a frenzy after the attack, calls her ex. When she asks why he is so calm, he replies, “This happened nine hours ago.” This is now one of my favorite jokes about the news cycle we live in.)
While Gloria watches the footage, she notices the monster has a lot of the same mannerisms that she does. Quickly, she realizes that if she walks through a specific park at just the right time, the monster appears in Seoul. She doesn’t become the monster, instead, the monster basically works as an avatar and mimics her movements. Of course, when she’s drunk and decides to be “the monster” to show off to her new drinking buddies (Sudeikis, Austin Stowell, and Tim Blake Nelson) and winds up tripping and falling down, killing innocent civilians half a world away, this film starts to take a dark turn.
What I loved about Colossal is just what a 90-degree turn this film makes, and the fact it somehow works. It changes from a comedy to something dark and twisted – and it’s all at one specific moment and never looks back. In reality, this is a movie more about petty jealousies than it is about monsters – petty jealousies from people who have learned they have the power to destroy entire cities.
Jason Sudeikis, more than anyone, has the biggest turn in the film and pulls it off: because not many people have the ability to play the charming funny guy, then play a ravaging dick quite like Sudeikis. He’s pretty perfect here and the movie relies on his personality turn to be believable. If he hadn’t have pulled this off, this doesn’t work.
Also, it’s so fun to watch Anne Hathaway star in a movie that’s just this weird. And good for her. Hathaway has gotten a strange bad rap sometimes, but she’s having a fun time here. I think she knows this is outside the spectrum of what she normally does (you know, being good in stuff and winning an Oscar), so much so that I’ve never watched her have this much fun before. Gloria is kind of a bad person who realizes she’s a bad person, surrounded by bad people who don’t have that kind of self-awareness.
Oh, and she can control a Godzilla-looking monster on the other side of the planet. So there’s that, too.
Mike Ryan lives in New York City and has written for The Huffington Post, Wired, Vanity Fair, and New York magazine. He is senior entertainment writer at Uproxx. You can contact him directly on Twitter.