(This review is spoiler-free.)
Colossal is not a perfect film, and it won’t be to everyone’s taste, but it has several very important virtues that allow it to stand apart from most of the film fare available to us. In an era when superhero films, anything featuring cars (transforming or not) and endless tired remakes dominate the box office, every now and then it’s nice to see something genuinely original, fresh and different. That’s where Colossal comes in. Written and directed by Spanish auteur Nacho Vigalondo, it’s part Kaiju movie, part The Breakfast Club and part Death Proof with a little Stranger Things on the side. It’s a story with its own sense of rhythm and characterization, and although it stars Hollywood actors (Anne Hathaway, Jason Sudeikis), it’s clearly the work of a European director with a deep appreciation for film genre.
It’s difficult to describe what actually happens in this film without spoiling some key points, but essentially, this film follows Gloria (Hathaway), an unemployed, marginally alcoholic writer back to her hometown after her New York boyfriend kicks her out of the apartment. There, she reconnects with a childhood friend, Oscar (Sueikis) who runs a local bar. These two characters share a history involving a playground and a lightning strike that manifests itself in an oddly powerful way in the present. Most of the film follows Gloria, Oscar and the rest of the barflies through the various pushing and pulling of the relationships (Gloria, being the only female of the group, is naturally coveted by at least one of the guys), tensions, conflicts and jealousies that are echoed in another incident, on another continent. Involving Kaiju monsters.
A word on the monsters: it may seem arbitrary and implausible that there could possibly be monsters in a film about aimless Gen-X-ers hanging out in a bar, but once one buys the conceit, the film opens up in scope and never seems forced. Hathaway is wonderful as Gloria, who begins the film as a self-absorbed and defeated soul and ends a genuine hero — and she’s also a powerfully feminist character with agency, vulnerability and strength. (It would be nice to say that these character traits, present in just about every male leading character, were the norm in female leads, but alas, the world is as it is.) Sueikis has perhaps the most difficult role to play, in that he has to project a geniality that disguises a dark savagery. Some of the character transitions in this film do seem a bit heightened, but this is in keeping with the style established by the genre. In other words, Colossal is so good at feeling like a small-scale, intimate adult drama that when it reminds the audience that it’s really a monster movie, it’s a surprise.
It’s all made more impressive when one considers the microscopic budget Vigalondo had to work with – barely over $2 million. That explains the limited sets, small number of speaking roles and the very creative “dodge” that allows the filmmakers to deliver on the spectacle when it needs to and even have an epic fight sequence at the end.
At the end of the day, the film has a message about karma, and owning the consequences of our actions, which can be “colossal” without us realizing. Gloria learns that hating herself is no way to live, and while she’s not quite ready to put down the booze at the end of the story, she’s definitely ready to start telling stories again, and start building a new life. Not since Logan has a film been able to place heartbreakingly real characters in a heightened genre setting so effectively. For its originality, creativity and simple storytelling quality, Colossal is a film any fan should catch before it inevitably becomes a cult classic.