Right when you thought things couldn’t get any worse for South Korea, along comes Colossal. Threats of nuclear war from North Korea and embarrassing government scandals are one thing, but it’s a drunken white woman’s guilty conscience that could be the Asian country’s ultimate undoing in Nacho Vigalondo’s genre hodgepodge. Never underestimate the city-killing power of millennial self-pity.
Unemployed and lazy, Gloria (Anne Hathaway) stays out all night partying instead of looking for her next gig as an online writer. Stoic, mannered, posh, British boyfriend Tim (Dan Stevens) has had enough and kicks her out of their swanky New York City apartment. Rock bottom means returning to the dreary suburbs of her youth to figure out what’s next. Good thing there’s an empty family house just waiting to be trashed.
Minor daily tasks like buying an inflatable bed or walking down the street seem gargantuan for Gloria, who is a cliché of stumbling contradictions. A reunion with old friend Oscar (Jason Sudeikis) inspires some much needed inner reflection, but only after spending the entire night boozing at the dank local saloon. Walking home the next morning hungover, she passes through a small park and has a minor meltdown. At that same moment, a Godzilla-sized monster ravages Seoul by making the same bratty gestures. Coincidence? Hell nah.
To Vigalondo’s credit, he doesn’t spend too much time on Gloria connecting the dots: She realizes pretty quickly that her morning dalliances coincide with the supernatural clusterfuck out east. But the metaphor-heavy travails that her situation inspires quickly become redundant and taxing. Quaint drinking sessions with Oscar and his buddies Garth (Tim Blake Nelson) and Joel (Austin Stowell) turn sour. The characters’ rampant addiction and their complicity in each other’s self-destruction eventually erode the social graces that have been holding back years of pent up anger.
If Colossal is ultimately about recognizing your demons and making a change, it can’t quite decide the best route to reach self-empowerment. Tonally, the film is as much a hot mess as Hathaway’s frazzled protagonist. Certain scenes are charming and comedic, others are sadistic and hateful, mirroring the mood swings of an abusive husband. Vigalondo’s strange and moving Extraterrestrial from 2011 managed to balance these competing forces with greater elegance.
Even more disheartening, there’s an indiscriminate absurdity to Gloria and Oscar’s eventual reckoning that disregards very real catastrophic consequences on the ground in South Korea. One of Gloria’s liquor-fueled tirades ends up killing thousands of people, but Vigalondo lets her off the hook with the equivalent of a politician’s “thoughts and prayers” tweet. While not Man of Steel-egregious, this casual decimation of foreigners shows that independent genre films, like their mainstream brethren, are not immune to being culturally tone-deaf. When Colossal finally unmasks the trite origins of Gloria’s trauma, these offenses turn even more discernible.
Complicating matters is the fact that Gloria must share equal billing with Oscar, as if his petty insecurities and rage are equivalent to her alcoholism and anxiety. The two characters are inexplicably linked by a trivial past event that only confirms their core personalities. But to what end? Vigalondo goes to all this trouble splicing genres and conventions just to eventually come back around and reiterate the obvious. Oscar’s most telling line speaks to the film’s cyclical and tired view of addiction: “It’s hard not to get bored. I mean there are ways, but none of them are healthy.”
Since calling someone’s bluff is a key theme in Colossal, we must apply that same courtesy to the film itself. Destabilizing a foreign nation need not be one of the ways to cure boredom, especially when it involves angry Americans who can’t move past a simple childhood spat.
Colossal opens on Friday, April 14, at the Angelika Carmel Mountain Cinemas and Landmark Hillcrest Cinemas.