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Film review: 'Colossal'


Everyone has issues. Whether that particular issue is major or minor, each of us do our best to keep it under control, but at some point we inevitably hurt someone we don't intend to because of it. Even when things are at their worst, however, there's generally a safe (usually unspoken) assumption that whatever problems we have, they won't result in a giant beast laying waste to a major city in South Korea. But that's precisely the situation faced by Anne Hathaway in "Colossal," a film that's part indie comedy, a little bit psychodrama, and a heaping bit monster movie. Because, man, there just aren't any original ideas out there anymore, are there?

Hathaway plays Gloria, an unemployed writer and barely-functioning alcoholic; she's kind of a mess. Her boyfriend, Tim (Dan Stevens, fresh off playing a beast himself), is fed up with Gloria returning home as the sun comes up, fumbling her way through whatever excuse she's managed to devise while staggering home in a boozy haze, and decides he's had enough. He kicks her out of the Manhattan apartment they share. With nowhere else to go, Gloria returns to the Upstate New York hometown she left behind to lick her wounds and figure things out. Shortly after arriving, Gloria reconnects by chance with a former elementary school classmate, Oscar (Jason Sudeikis).

Oscar offers her a job waitressing at the bar he inherited from his father. Paying no heed to the fact that a bar might not be the best place of employment for someone with a penchant for getting blackout drunk, Gloria accepts Oscar's generous offer, figuring she can make some money to get herself back on her feet. Every night, she stays after hours, getting tanked and hanging with Oscar and his buddies (Tim Blake Nelson and Austin Stowell). At this point you may think that you know where all this is headed, and for a time the film progresses in familiar fashion.

But after yet another night of heavy drinking, Gloria awakens to frantic news reports: an enormous monster has attacked the city of Seoul, raining down destruction, demolishing buildings, and terrorizing the populace. The world stands in shock, watching breathless reports covering the devastation as the Godzilla-like beast reappears day after day. The mayhem continues, and slowly Gloria begins to realize that she may have a mysterious connection to the creature wreaking havoc on the opposite side of the world.

Despite boasting the year's most out-there premise, once you think about it the idea behind "Colossal" isn't quite as crazy as it at first seems. (I mean, how many people have you met who become monsters when they've had too much to drink?) Some of the specifics of its ingenious central metaphor admittedly get a bit muddled as the story unfolds. And writer-director Nacho Vigalondo ("Timecrimes") caves somewhat by eventually providing a half-hearted explanation for these strange occurrences -- which really isn't necessary if you've been willing to go along with the movie's more outlandish ideas for as long as it takes to get there.

But for the most part, Vigalondo skillfully navigates some tricky tonal shifts and demonstrates an admirable willingness to explore some of the darker edges raised by his film's conceit. It helps that the film is also frequently very, very funny while it does so. He tackles some serious issues with an absurdist point-of-view, and somewhat inexplicably, it all works.

Although she's often saddled with a squeaky-clean onscreen image, Hathaway has demonstrated on more than one occasion that she excels at playing troubled trainwrecks, and at times "Colossal" plays like "Rachel Getting Married" with kaiju. She makes us like Gloria, even as we recognize how thoughtlessly she moves through life, blissfully unaware of the destruction she leaves in her wake.

In an equally terrific performance, Sudeikis upends his familiar persona as the affable, somewhat smarmy, but basically decent guy. I've seen complaints about the logic behind the general arc his character takes, but I had no trouble buying it. I've encountered plenty of men like him, who present the outward appearance of the mild-mannered nice guy, but underneath aren't entirely what they appear to be.

Through these two characters, "Colossal" becomes a surprisingly nuanced exploration of addiction, personal accountability, and rage -- of both the female and decidedly male variety. Plus, you know, giant monsters. Oscar and Gloria are in many ways flip sides of the same coin, stumbling down separate paths but headed toward the same destructive end. Continuing on will mean deciding how much collateral damage they're willing to endure in the pursuit of what they want. Providing emotional depth wrapped in a deliriously entertaining package, "Colossal" is bound to linger with anyone who struggles to tame the beast within.