9 out of 10
Anne Hathaway as Gloria
Directed by Nacho Vigalondo
Disclosure – Nacho Vigalondo, while not a close friend, is someone that I’ve known now for a few years. He’s a regular at Fantastic Fest – he’s brought his films there, and last year he was co-star with Zoe Bell in Camino. He’s very well loved there. One year, Nacho grabbed me outside the Highball, kissed my cheek, and whispered in my ear, “All is love at Fantastic Fest.” That’s just the kind of guy he is.
He’s also a very talented filmmaker, and Nacho, who writes and directs his own stories, has a way of looking at a genre story in a way that, to me, reminds me strongly of Ray Bradbury. Bradbury had a way of working complex themes and ideas into something that everyone could understand and appreciate. Vigalondo can look at a genre subtype sideways, like time travel (Timecrimes) or an alien invasion (Extraterrestrial), and come up with genuinely unique, and often times hilarious, takes on very familiar tropes. So I was reticent to review his film, because I wanted to make sure I saw it through the prism as a critic and not as a fellow Fantastic Fest attendee and acquaintance.
I saw Colossal twice at Fantastic Fest. I see a movie twice at that festival for only two reasons – either it’s an incredible movie experience that I need to have again, or I want to see how the audience reacts. Colossal was both. What Nacho Vigalondo does here is astonishing, so much so that, to me, he can now be mentioned in the same breath as Guillermo del Toro or Alfonso Cuaron. I worried that I might be too close on this one, but a second viewing confirmed it for me; this is an important film in fantasy and science fiction. It’s thrilling, funny, smart, original, and in the film’s second half, extraordinarily poignant, topical, and relevant. It has two career best performances in Anne Hathaway (also a producer, and no wonder, I imagine once Hathaway read this script she knew she had to be a part of it) and Jason Sudeikis. It’s a giant monster movie, a character study, and a full-on thesis on modern day relations between men and women – sometimes all at once. Vigalondo juggles all of this effortlessly and gracefully, and at the end of it I was astounded by just how mature a film Colossal is. Those wanting to nitpick can certainly find things to gripe about, but they’d be missing the point entirely. I can’t remember when a genre film like this had this much to say, and if the cup sometimes overflows, that’s to be expected. Colossal’s an amazing monster movie, one where the monster isn’t what we expect at all.
Gloria (Anne Hathaway) is a blog writer, but she’s not been doing a whole lot of writing lately; she’s been mercilessly attacked online (as many women these days have been) and she spends most of her time drinking and hanging out with friends. Her boyfriend Tim (Dan Stevens) has had enough of Gloria’s carousing, and soon Gloria finds herself out of her fancy apartment. Back in her hometown, one she spent her childhood trying to escape, Gloria stays at her parents’ old house while she tries to work out what she needs to do next. Enter Oscar (Jason Sudeikis), an old childhood friend, and who quickly wants to help Gloria out and offers her a job in his small town bar. Oscar seems like a nice enough guy, bringing Gloria furniture and television sets, and Gloria is appreciative. But Gloria is a woman in flux, struggling with alcohol, and isn’t ready to devote any time to anyone or anything but herself.
Suddenly, Seoul, Korea is attacked by a giant monster, stomping its way through the city. Everyone is of course shocked at this turn of events, but Gloria discovers something amazing about the creature, a secret no one else knows. And that’s all you should know going in to Colossal, because to tell more of the story would take away the fun, the thrills, and the power of what Colossal has to say. Nacho Vigalondo isn’t as interested in the destruction and the devastation as he is in what it can mean – how the repercussions of our everyday lives can not only affect those closest to us, but even those across the world; how our petty jealousies grow into something uglier and more damaging. I hope the marketing campaign avoids the second act entirely, because the reveals of Colossal are not only entertaining, but deeply emotional and true.
Anne Hathaway is brilliant. She brings the whole spectrum of emotions to Gloria, and it’s a brave, exposed, raw performance. She can be hilarious and fragile at the same time, and I love the choices that Gloria makes throughout Colossal. Sometimes she makes bad choices, but they are always human ones, and we can relate to Gloria in a very genuine way. Jason Sudeikis is also very likable and relatable, which makes what Sudeikis does with Oscar even more powerful once Nacho Vigalondo pulls back the curtain on his character later in the film. At that point, Sudeikis’ work becomes even more impressive, and I expect that a major reassessment of him as an actor will happen once Colossal opens. Both Hathaway and Sudeikis masterfully orchestrate the comedy with the more serious turns that Colossal makes in its second half, and both actors find something raw, angry, and wounded in both Gloria and Oscar.
There’s a ton of metaphor in Colossal – from men’s issues, to online harassment, to men and women trying to navigate a more complicated, problematic world. What’s great about Colossal is that those metaphors are there if you want them, but they aren’t necessary to enjoy the movie. They just give Colossal a deeper resonance and power. But Vigalondo brings all these themes together in a way that is incredibly entertaining and relevant, and with a powerful emotion that is unexpected in its poignancy and truth. There are moments that I choked up quite a bit in Colossal, because something as simple as a playground brawl becomes so much more important and meaningful in the context of the film. Colossal is full of moments like that.
But throughout Colossal, Nacho Vigalondo is playful, then serious, then manages to find that special place that all great directors find when they are at the absolute top of their skills. Colossal is a huge step forward for him as an artist. He is telling incredibly entertaining genre stories while remaining utterly fascinated by the humans that fill them. He looks at the incredible, the amazing, and finds a place for all of us regular people in it. Films like Godzilla or King Kong have us sympathizing with the monster, even amidst all the devastation. Colossal takes that sympathy and does something extraordinary with it. He allows us to examine our world in a different angle, whether it’s from hundreds of stories up, or in the most intimate of ways. And now, Nacho Vigalondo becomes one of the best genre directors working today. I feel very privileged to have seen this at Fantastic Fest. It was like watching a new artist be born. I can’t wait to see what Nacho does next, because after Colossal, nothing will be the same. Colossal is, no kidding, one of the best monster movies I’ve ever seen. This is an instant classic.