If all you know of the movie Colossal is its marketing campaign, then all you know is a complete lie. I rarely ever talk about the marketing or trailers of films I’m writing about because I view all of that as superfluous. What really matters is what happens between the production company logos and the final credits. The team in charge of selling this movie, though, are responsible for a bait-and-switch of such unbelievable scale that it’s impossible not to mention. What I thought I was getting into and what I actually saw were completely different, and that made me wrestle with Colossal in a way I wouldn’t have if I had known nothing going into it.
The elevator pitch premise – and what the trailer would have you believe – is that Colossal is a quirky, comedic twist on the giant monster movie genre (called Kaiju in Japanese cinema). The twist is that our hero Gloria, a down-on-her-luck-just-moved-back-to-her-hometown woman in America, actually controls, with her body movements, a strange creature that materializes in South Korea whenever Gloria steps into a children’s playground at exactly 8:05 a.m.
That set-up is inviting. It conjures all sorts of wacky scenarios whereby Gloria accidentally wreaks havoc half a world away while she tries to figure out how all this is happening. Some of those elements are there. The early part of the film has fun as Gloria slowly realizes she is responsible in some mysterious way for this world-changing event. The best gag in that vein is when Gloria tries to convince her friends that she actually is controlling the monster. She does just about the silliest dance imaginable, and her friends look at their iPad in stunned disbelief as the monster mimics the same goofy movements.
The heart of Colossal – what the trailer conveniently leaves out – is much darker and more serious than the above description would have you believe. It’s a movie with something on its mind, like a lot of these kinds of movies, using the outlandish idea of a 100-foot monster to explore destructive and ugly human behavior. The way the movie tackles these themes isn’t entirely successful. There’s a lack of subtlety, but Colossal is about something - namely addiction, insecurity, toxic masculinity, and emotional abuse - and that makes the movie thought-provoking and rewarding.
Gloria’s boyfriend, Tim, kicks her out of their apartment because she drinks and parties too much. Tim refuses to be a part of her life until she gets her problem under control. Gloria has no job and no money, so she leaves New York City to essentially squat in the empty childhood home that her parents still own. She runs into an old friend, Oscar, who offers her a job at the bar he owns.
Oscar is, at first, kind and helpful to Gloria. Not only does he give her a job, but he also (maybe a bit too kindly) supplies her with some furniture for the empty house. Sure, he gets a little pushy and rude when he’s been drinking, but he’s an okay guy. Things are good, but something doesn’t feel quite right, at least for us if not for Gloria.
It’s when both Oscar and Gloria discover her unbelievable power over the giant monster that things go from just uncomfortable to dangerous. It seems Oscar has always been a bit jealous of Gloria. She went off to New York City to become a writer, while he stayed behind and took over his dad’s bar. This incredible development with the monster is too much to bear. Oscar soon discovers he has some power of his own when he steps into that children’s playground, though, and he uses it against Gloria in an effort to control her.
This is Colossal’s most inventive, provocative idea. Oscar’s power becomes a representation of how petty, spiteful men attempt to control the women in their lives. It’s a message that thousands, maybe millions, of men need desperately to hear. At the same time, though, the characters express outright in dialog this really clever representation. Colossal doesn’t trust its audience to draw the right conclusions. Subtext becomes text.
The mishandling of the message doesn’t diminish its importance, though. Maybe that’s the cleverest thing about the intentionally deceptive marketing campaign: lure in the people who most need to hear your message by promising a big action movie featuring a city-crushing, Godzilla-like monster, then hit them with the message of how destructive toxic masculinity is.
What the movie lacks in thematic subtlety, it more than makes up for in the characters it creates. They feel like fully formed people, not stock archetypes conjured to deliver a moral. Much of the credit for this achievement has to go to the actors.
Anne Hathaway delivers a powerful performance as Gloria. She portrays the character as a damaged and struggling woman who finds an inner strength of which not even she thought she was capable. Hathaway is funny and touching, sometimes in the same scene, and she displays a range that puts her in the highest rank of her profession, as if her past work hasn’t already proven that.
Jason Sudeikis plays Oscar, and he stretches himself very successfully beyond the Saturday Night Live brand of comedy for which he is widely known. That comedic streak is present in Colossal, but as the movie progresses, Sudeikis gets darker, projecting a frightening menace that exemplifies a possessive and controlling personality.
Colossal gave me a lot to think about after I saw it, which is a recommendation all its own. Its best aspects do an admirable job of smoothing over its shortcomings. I have to remind myself, too, that how a movie’s marketing department decides to sell it should absolutely not be held against the picture itself. No, what really matters is what the actual movie does to you and the ideas it presents. As far as that goes, Colossal was a success.
Why it got 3.5 stars:
- Colossal is a movie with a message. The message is delivered just slightly more clumsily than I'd like, but it's still a rewarding experience.
Things I forgot to mention in my review, because, well, I'm the Forgetful Film Critic:
- My partner, Rachel, wants you all to know I'm dead wrong about the issues I had with Colossal's lack of subtlety. She would like everyone reading this to see Colossal immediately, if not sooner. (Which actually isn't that far from how I feel about the movie myself, but there you have it.)
Up Next at The Forgetful Film Critic:
- Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2! I really enjoyed the first installment. Here's to hoping Vol. 2 is just as entertaining.