Sundance 2017: Colossal, by David Bax
Nacho Vigalondo’s Colossal is the best kind of genre movie, the kind that uses its fantastical elements as exaggerated yet incisive metaphors to illustrate its more human stories. In fact, Vigalondo goes beyond that, managing skillfully to slot various interpretations into his metaphors and doing justice to all of them. Then, finally, he delivers the dramatic grand finale we want from a monster movie while reminding us that the issues he’s exploring will have no such simple answers in real life.
Anne Hathaway stars as Gloria, an out of work online journalist who’s living in New York City with her boyfriend, Tim (Dan Stevens), though she spends more time drunk than she does with him. This is why, one morning after she’s been out all night, he packs her things and kicks her out. She returns to the empty house her family still owns in the small town where she grew up and, soon thereafter, runs into an old schoolmate named Oscar (Jason Sudeikis), still living in the house his late parents owned and operating the sleepy bar he inherited from his father. He offers Gloria a waitress job, which is the last thing an alcoholic probably needs. But that’s not the worst of it. The worst comes when Gloria realizes her behavior is controlling the movements of a gigantic monster that terrorizes Seoul with its drunken flailing.
So let’s delineate the metaphors. One is a small but surprisingly effective overview of how Westerners consume terrible news and disasters in far-flung parts of the world. There’s lip service to how awful it is, of course, but the increased turnout at Oscar’s bar of people who want to have a drink and watch the news turns the spectacle into something like a group viewing of Survivor.
The second and most obvious metaphor has to do with alcoholism. In the Gloria/Oscar storyline, both Vigalondo and Hathaway (who, along with Rachel Getting Married, is proving herself quite adept at playing addicts) nail the details of being a barely functioning drunk; the way the choice between a drink and a meal is no choice at all; or the way the mere presence of a bottle of booze in a room is a nagging distraction until it’s been opened and the first drink has been poured. And the monster story exists as an obvious depiction of way behavior that seems harmless to the inebriated can have detrimental effects on those around them.
The final metaphor concerns domestic, emotional and physical abuse. It would be a spoiler to lay out how the story gets there but Vigalondo draws parallels–like the swearing to change only to relapse–between the behavior of alcoholics and abusers while refusing to let the latter off the hook. All of this makes Colossal sound like a heavy movie. And, to a considerable extent, it is. But it’s still a fun movie about a giant monster smashing stuff. The fact that it’s both is a testament to its greatness.