Colossal

colossal-2016-anne-hathawayColossal mashes up two such madly divergent genres — the kaiju movie and the sincere romcom — that it shouldn’t work as demonically well as it does. Partly its success owes to the willingness of its writer/director, Nacho Vigalondo, to make the characters stubbornly imperfect and idiosyncratic. The movie’s human drama has a slow, steady launch, but by the time it enters the realm of science fiction, or fantasy, or horror, or whatever you choose to call it, we are invested in these people, and we respond to the metaphors more organically and freely than we might otherwise.

Vigalondo, a sci-fi/horror man from the beginning, gives us a tenuous explanation for the premise. Gloria (Anne Hathaway), a drunken wreck of a woman, somehow inadvertently summons and controls the movements of a giant monster in South Korea. She lifts her arms, it lifts its arms. This apparently only happens when she enters a park in her hometown at 8:05 in the morning. These are the rules we need to accept in order to enter into the imaginative contract; once we sign it, Vigalondo honors our desire for an unpredictable good time. The movie eventually settles into stark drama, evoking such real-world monsters as violent jealousy and self-hatred lashing outward at friends and strangers.

For a while, Colossal is rumpled good company. Gloria, played by Hathaway as a slightly more affable gloss on her human wreckage from Rachel Getting Married, is booted from the New York apartment she shares with her boyfriend Tim (Dan Stevens). Tim is tired of dealing with Gloria through the haze of alcohol or post-alcohol. (Without being preachy, the movie is pretty strongly against booze and drugs, if only because they enable the creation of alternate realities in which people can get lost.) Dejected, she returns to her late parents’ empty house in Mainland and squats there. She encounters a childhood friend, Oscar (Jason Sudeikis), now a bartender at the place formerly owned by his late dad. He offers Gloria a job; she accepts. She hangs out at the bar after hours, mumbling late-night talk with barflies like Garth (Tim Blake Nelson), a closet cokehead, and Joel (Austin Stowell), who has a crush on her. A good portion of the movie explores what happens to orphans in their thirties, what they make of themselves (Gloria once had a writing gig in New York but blew it).

But then the monster rises in South Korea, causing chaos and sometimes death (and then, later, a kind of fascination). Gloria recognizes her connection to the creature, and partly the movie is a joke on self-absorbed people who feel their actions are more impactful and reverberant than they are. But it’s also a vindication: Gloria really is causing havoc, both here in Mainland and abroad in South Korea. As I say, the origin of all this is explained piecemeal, eventually taking in Oscar, the movie’s acidic take on Nice Guys. Hathaway’s performance is terrific, but terrific in a known-quantity way — we’ve seen her go here before — whereas Jason Sudeikis weighs in with finely shaded work that crosses over, from time to time, into pathos and even threat. I never expected to find this amiable funnyman frightening, but the movie is full of surprises.

Because Colossal follows the emotions of its characters rather than an airtight plot, it’s impossible to pin down; we never know where it’s going, and it will not please literal-minded viewers who want to hear the click of a logical explanation. Gloria’s life swamps everyone else’s with drama and problems; she’s a bit of a monster herself, stomping through the skyscrapers of other people’s lives. (At times I was reminded of a Julie Doucet self-portrait of her as a giant, heavily menstruating all over a terrified city.) The movie doesn’t linger on the South Korean kaiju scenes — they’re mostly seen in TV clips or on the internet. It all resolves in a climax of tragic, hard-won triumph. I don’t know what genre Colossal finally lands in; like Being John Malkovich, it’s so bent it fashions its own shelf to sit on.

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