Colossal: Soul to Seoul, by Ian Brill
Colossal is Nacho Vigalondo’s meditation on addiction and failure. It stars Anne Hathaway as Gloria, a Manhattan party girl who moves back to her parents’ house (literally just the house – her parents aren’t even there) after a break-up. In the small town where she grew up, she reconnects with her childhood friend Oscar (Jason Sudeikis), who gets her a job in the bar he inherited from his father.
Also, half a world away in Korea, a giant monster appears. What does this half to do with our alcoholism drama? Turns out the kaiju is a manifestation of Gloria.
With Colossal’s conceit, Vigalondo immediately wins points for novelty. Vigalondo the director can see the concept through. Vigalondo the screenwriter has a bit of a harder time with it.
The film’s strength is that the concept and Hathaway bond so well. One of the early highlights of the film is Gloria figuring out the monster and she are connected. It’s a wordless sequence, delicately mixing detective work with emotion. Gloria is already dealing with regret and confusion over where her drinking has gotten her. Now she must deal with an unimaginable amount of guilt once this monster’s destruction is factored in. It’s a joy to see the film raise to a new level because of the emotion Hathaway communicates through Gloria.
The trouble comes during the second time the film raises the stakes. Oscar proves to not be a friendly face from the past but in fact another alcoholic. He is filled with resentment and control issues. The scene where this is revealed is a hard turn. It’s such a dramatic shift that it’s difficult to see the connection between Oscar’s two sides. Even as the film continues, Sudeikis’ performance and Vigalondo’s script do not layer Oscar’s story in a way that creates any symbiosis between Oscar’s “nice guy” persona and his “jerk alpha male” self. The only moment that reaches the ambitions laid out for Oscar’s character is another scene dedicated to the visuals. The one time the film visits Oscar’s house is a creepy tour through a domicile marked by a life of pain and frustration. It’s another example of how Colossal works best when Vigalondo the director takes over from Vigalondo the writer.
The screenplay still has strong points, especially in the internal logic of kaiju/Gloria conceit. There’s actually very little action with the kaiju. Most of it is seen through the media lens, where Gloria and Oscar are part of the audience. But the monster still, well, looms large thanks in part to the well-established rules Vigalondo sets up for how it and Gloria are connected. From there, Hathaway’s performance takes what could be a silly or even cloying idea and makes it resonate. This is an alcoholic whose problem takes on a bizarre level of gravity, and Hathaway does a brilliant job of exploring what that looks like.
The emotional and logical parts of the film come together for an ending worthy of its brash concept. It cements the film as a winner overall, even if it has some trouble achieving all its aims.