It’s hard to write a review for a film when its greatest attributes are best kept under wraps. The new film Colossal is a strange treat of a movie, one that starts out as a clever re-invention of the kaiju monster movie genre and then morphs itself, through smart, subversive turns, into a righteous feminist parable. It’s a monster movie, fused with a dark comedy, that is inventive, surprising, unique, and empowering.
Gloria (Anne Hathaway) is an alcoholic New Yorker, a former writer for an online magazine whose polarizing work got her fired. At the start of the film, she heads back to her childhood hometown after her hard-partying ways become too much for her straight-laced boyfriend (Dan Stevens), who kicks her out of their apartment. At home, Gloria reconnects with her elementary school buddy Oscar (Jason Sudeikis), also a heavy drinker and the owner of a local bar.
After a night of binge-drinking, a hungover Gloria wakes up to learn that a huge Godzilla-style monster has spontaneously appeared overnight and attacked the city of Seoul, South Korea. But this is no ordinary skyscraper-smashing behemoth. This monster is, in fact, a manifestation of Gloria herself. It mirrors her own behaviors and nervous tics, and represents the drunken, irresponsible parts of her life that she most needs to change.
But through an intriguing development that directly involves Oscar, and calls his initially affable personality into question, Colossal’s approach goes from a clever genre twist (“What if your personal demons showed up as a real-life monster?”) to a blistering statement on toxic masculinity in its various forms. Colossal isn’t just a movie about a woman overcoming her bad habits. It’s about a woman discovering her own power and agency, and the refusal of the men in her life to accept that agency.
In that regard, Hathaway’s performance as Gloria is a real standout. Gloria is learning to take care of herself, and Hathaway shows that growth in a way that feels authentic to the character, as well as to Colossal’s fun, often goofy feel. She’s the opposite of the “strong female character” cliche. Instead of a capable, strong woman forced by the plot to become vulnerable, Gloria is a much more realistic version: A woman who’s barely holding it together, gaining strength and capability.
As Oscar, Sudeikis is an inspired casting choice. His natural Midwestern-nice vibe serves him well as the seemingly well-meaning smitten male lead, making his character’s abrupt turn all the more sinister and surprising when it finally arrives.
Writer and director Nacho Vigalondo also makes great use of symbolism throughout the film, displaying both a love for the goofy, spectacular films he’s referencing and a strong understanding of the kind of story he’s using those hallmarks to tell. That Gloria’s monster attacks Seoul is implicitly significant: Throughout the movie, she is rejecting her apathetic attitude and reclaiming her independence and personality — repairing, in a way, her own soul.
To reveal much more would be to ruin the delights and surprising poignancy that Colossal provides. The film is an original, funny, and surprisingly cathartic experience, a unique combination of content and themes that delivers laughs as well as thoughtful points of conversation.