COLOSSAL (2017) Reaches the Height of High-Concept

If nothing else, you’ve got to love the gusto of a movie like Colossal, which tells the story of Gloria (Anne Hathaway), a woman who discovers that when she stands in a playground in her hometown at 8:05am, she causes a kaiju to appear in Seoul, South Korea that mimics her every move. Really, that this premise is handled at least competently, alone deserves however much (probably too much) you’re paying to see this movie. As a bonus, Colossal is an incredibly well made film that also tells a realistically portrayed story of an abusive relationship caused by male entitlement, and shows a woman who gathers the strength to beat it.

When Gloria discovers this uncanny effect of hers, she’s not in the best place. She’s back in her hometown because her boyfriend (Dan Stevens) just kicked her out for her hard-party lifestyle and being unable to handle her borderline-alcoholism, and she’s been unemployed for over a year. Things start to look up when Oscar (Jason Sudeikis), a childhood friend, gives her a part-time job at his bar, introduces her to a new group of friends, and even helps her furnish her old, otherwise abandoned, childhood home. And then she discovers that by being in the wrong place at the wrong time, she can cause hundreds of deaths and millions of dollars in property damage within seconds. And things get worse when “nice guy” Oscar becomes possessive of Gloria, and also discovers that he can manifest a Giant Robot in Seoul, which he quickly learns to use as a cudgel to keep Gloria around.

What Colossal handles especially well is how its narrative evolves. When Gloria first makes the connection between the kaiju and herself, it’s a pretty clear metaphor for her own demons. Gloria is a screw-up and a hedonist, and falls into the same sort of bucket as many of Amy Elliott Dunne’s (from Gone Girl) “cool girls” – she’s one of the guys. And the first time she uses the power with the understanding of her causal relationship to it – which thankfully happens pretty early in the narrative – she fools around, apparently oblivious to damage across the globe that she’s effecting. As she realizes the literal tons of weight of her actions, and begins to take responsibility for them, the metaphor evolves, and Oscar becomes the monster. His awareness of his ability skips the learning curve, and he immediately uses it without any care for the destruction he’s causing, and quickly starts using his ability to harm others as a way to keep Gloria in line when she starts to realize the true monster under the surface.

Both leads deserve just as much praise for their portrayal of this evolution as the story does for constructing it. Hathaway brings a natural charm to Gloria’s burnout, and shows her gradual shift towards personal responsibility. Nothing about Gloria at the end of the movie feels unearned by the Gloria from the beginning. There’s never a sudden change or epiphany, all of her changes in behavior take some time for her to fully absorb and act on, and even by the end of the film we see that her baser urges haven’t fully disappeared. Sudeikis plays excellently against type, and unless you know some specific signs to look out for, his comic affability will throw off your guard at first. But where he really succeeds is in his own transformation from cool neighbor-boy to manipulative control-freak, because it’s not really a transformation at all. It’s a slow burn that reveals itself over the course of the movie, and only gets darker and darker as we see how pitiful (but importantly, not sympathetic) he really is.

Aside from the big dramatic arcs, Colossal also nails all the smaller details that really push it above and beyond. For a movie about an abusive relationship, Colossal is actually quite funny, embracing the absurdity of its premise and the failure of its characters. It finds humor in Gloria’s repeated blacking-out only to wake up at the same very specific time over and over again. There’s a running gag involving an inflatable mattress. And then there are the moments early in the movie where Gloria discovers that she can make the Kaiju dance. My biggest laugh came from a joke involving a slap that I couldn’t help but connect back to the meme of Richard Spencer getting punched at Trump’s inauguration. Appropriately, the film takes a dark turn in its last third – even incorporating some horror elements, which I think manages to highlight the humor even more, if making it feel a little dissonant in retrospect.

Importantly, Colossal also succeeds at being a Kaiju movie, with fun and inventive takes on giant monster fights. The Kaiju are used sparingly – the most effective shot involving their existence doesn’t even have them on screen – but when they are on screen, Colossal commits, with full fights that topple buildings and leave hundreds of Koreans fleeing their homes. The fights are also a tiny gumblely-laughing bit comedic, because, going further than men in rubber suits, the fights are choreographed over characters that really don’t know how to fight. Regardless, the final fight will leave you feeling as triumphant as any time Godzilla beats King Ghidorah or Mecha-Godzilla.

Depending on who you are, a movie as silly and high-concept as Colossal could be a very hard sell, but no matter who you are, I strongly recommend you give it a shot. It’s an amazing example of how to ground a frankly ridiculous-on-its-face metaphor while reveling in its silliness, and also a serious and sincere depiction of a style of abuse that doesn’t get shared enough in popular culture. Colossal really covers the entire spectrum, and pulls off everything it attempts through strong commitment to genre, character, and its own themes. Colossal is how you do high-concept without being high-falutin.

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