Anne Hathaway was treated like a 100-foot monster barreling towards a preordained Oscar win in 2013. It only makes sense she actually play one a few years later. The actress takes an interesting step in the monster movie genre with the new film “Colossal.” Hathaway has always had impeccable timing and a wealth of charm that she imbues with her characters. Even as an irresponsible drunk, Hathaway remains not only root-able, but someone to empathize with.
Much of the fun the film has to offer is in its surprises. The less one knows about the plot mechanics, the better. However, here are the basics going in. Gloria (Hathaway) is at the end of her rope. She loses her job and is kicked out of the apartment she shares with her ex-boyfriend, Tim (Dan Stevens). With nowhere to go, Gloria moves home and gets a job at the bar her old friend Oliver (Jason Sudeikis) owns. It’s a convenient stroke of luck, as Gloria nurses an alcoholic streak that’s hard to control. After stumbling through a park drunk at the crack of dawn one morning, Gloria realizes that she controls a lumbering Kaiju that terrorizes Seoul, halfway across the world.
This initial conceit is great for a joke or two. What takes the film to the next level is how it elevates its story from there. Tremendous credit should be given to writer-director Nacho Vigalondo. He continually pushes the characters into new, uncomfortable territory. Even in doing so, the film’s weird center stays very much intact. That’s not easy to do as you make a point not to ignore the casualties that befall Seoul on account of Gloria’s antics. Conscious and fun seem like opposite ends of the spectrum. “Colossal” manages to be both without giving the audience tonal whiplash.
On a base level, Vigalondo constructs some interesting visual set pieces around Gloria’s goofy, yet deadly Kaiju on a shoestring budget. The destruction that befalls Seoul is mostly shown through smartphones or TV. However, the impact is still there. Even more effective is the way the small town is depicted. The production design of the film has quite a bit of fun making this town seem drab and uninspired. Oliver’s bar, in particular, is a wonderful mishmash of influences he can’t be bothered to unpack. The arrested development of Gloria is also brought to life through the large, but empty house she inhabits upon returning to town. Despite tons of empty room, she can’t help but be gloriously satisfied with just a big screen TV and old futon.
For being known as America’s sweetheart, Anne Hathaway seems to do her best work as an utter screw up. As a drug addict struggling in recovery, “Rachel Getting Married” remains her high water mark in terms of performances. Gloria makes an interesting companion with Kym, the subject of that film. Despite suffering from a drinking problem, the film follows Gloria as she learns to take responsibility for her actions. At first her binge drinking seems to be a personal bad choice that affects no one but herself. However, as the fate of a city looms in her hands, Gloria contemplates how her bad decisions have consequences for others. Rather than take a judgmental or didactic approach to this character, Hathaway makes her endearing. And yet, the endearing qualities don’t sand off the edges that make her character unique.
For as much magic as Hathaway weaves with her character, Sudeikis announces himself as a true actor. At first, his Oliver seems like the typical good guy who got stuck in his home town. It’s almost as if he watched “Young Adult” too many times and fixated on Patrick Wilson’s performance in that film. Rather than sideline him for Gloria’s arc, his character takes interesting turns that propel the film to its exciting third act. The way Sudeikis shades his character’s motivations adds a welcome dose of excitement and tension. Other side characters seem to come and go when convenient. The most egregious of this being Austin Stowell’s Joel, a nice guy who can’t help but pine for Gloria. However, Sudeikis manages to really rise from the crowd.
There’s something about “Colossal” that is made for cult fandom. It takes a movie star previously thought of as safe and reinvents her in a monster movie. Add in a whopping of off-kilter humor and interesting layers of gender politics, and you have “Colossal.” While it won’t change the world or light the film industry on fire, it’s a wonderfully economic genre mashup with a conscience. It would be easy to see Vigalondo follow in the footsteps of Edgar Wright to generate a small, but passionate fanbase from this film. If that fanbase forms, sign me up and let me know when the meetings are.
“Colossal” opens in limited release today, April 7, and expands to more markets over the next few weeks.