I’m not offended or outraged by Nacho Vigalondo’s Colossal – I just don’t really get it. Conceptually and thematically, nothing about Colossal worked for me. It brandishes plenty of worthwhile and intriguing ideas, but very few of them coalesce into anything meaningful. It’s a nutty film, but not the kind that excites or raises your pulse. It’s merely befuddling and obvious, straining for pathos yet yielding to nerd-culture theatrics to make a point. It’s a film about alcoholism without understanding addiction, a film about confused masculinity and privilege without saying anything meaningful, and a kaijū eiga without the breadth or spectacle.
Following an all-night bender, Gloria (Anne Hathaway) is cast out of her posh living quarters by her boyfriend Tim (Dan Stevens). Unemployed and disconnected from the world around her, Gloria opts to stay at her childhood home, in what’s a self-imposed exile from the city to get her life back on track. She meets up with an old grade-school friend, Oscar (Jason Sudeikis), who offers her a part-time job working at his bar. Her quote unquote ragers continue unabated, as Gloria will find herself asleep in public spaces, dragging her hungover carcass back home before going back to the bar. Meanwhile, a monster attacks Seoul, appearing as an apparition, rampaging through the city before disappearing into thin air. Its appearance coincides with Gloria’s drunken stupors and she quickly puts together that they are indeed related.
The kaijū-alcoholism metaphor would be a stroke of genius if the rest of the film actually executed on the idea, but it doesn’t. For one, and this perhaps speaks more to my own sensibilities: Gloria’s drinking really isn’t that bad. Her character would be passed out before the second bottle of soju is cracked open in a Hong Sang-soo film. You’ll notice that Vigalondo will rarely actually capture Gloria drinking. He’ll emphasize the hangover rather than the actual consumption of alcohol and that more or less renders the idea of Gloria being an out of control monster as ineffectual – let’s just say that Anne Hathaway does not make for the most convincing lout.
Colossal works a little more convincingly as a statement on the smallness of humans, with an intriguing emphasis on how the human body leaves an imprint. Akin to how Gareth Edwards’s relied on action figures for scale in Godzilla, so does Vigalondo, opening his film on a small girl searching for her doll before catching a view of a kaijū running amok. And the film carries on with this sense of smallness, perhaps best realized by Sudeikis’ Oscar. As the film progresses, Oscar will pivot from generic nice guy – helping Gloria as she settles back into town – to violent sociopath. And in that transition, we’ll see Oscar confide how he “can’t stand that [his] life feels so small”, as he exploits Gloria’s abilities for his own his benefit. For once, Oscar will be able to leave an imprint that extends past his childhood community, a community occupied by the ghosts of his parents, with its only totem being his father’s bar.
But as is often the case with these sorts of films, the more Vigalondo addresses the whys of his narrative, the less interesting Colossal becomes. The novelties of its kaijū elements wear thin well before its conclusion, in what’s an attempt for catharsis that falls flat on its face. The working pieces and ideas that compose Colossal would suggest something truly inspired, but Vigalondo is either unwilling or incapable of convincingly grappling with the weight of his themes, so often retreating to snide commentary and half-hearted jokes to lighten the whole exercise. It can be funny, sure, but it’s only barely interesting.