With Colossal, Nacho Vigalondo fulfills the promise of his Timecrimes debut, delivering a near-masterpiece that cannily obliges and twigs on the demands of a genre. An intimate epic on our capacity for self-destruction, Colossal has tonal shifts that may confound mainstream audiences, but all in service of a journey that hits like a thunderclap.
It’d be a dirty trick to rob you of Colossal‘s revelations (the movie has no true twists, but it turns in ways that are enormously exciting to experience), so I’ll bare bones this. Gloria (Anne Hathaway) is a glorious mess, an out-of-work writer who fills the void of her professional career with hard parties and booze. Her boyfriend (The Guest‘s Dan Stevens, even more cartoonishly perfect with his natural accent) has finally had enough and kicks her out. Left with nothing, Gloria retreats to her parents’ vacated house, eking out a living on a crummy air mattress. As she grapples with this crossroads at which life has left her, Gloria re-connects with childhood friend Oscar (Jason Sudeikis) and his pals (including Tim Blake Nelson and Austin Stowell). In visiting her past, Gloria hopes to better understand her future, and the early goings capture her fumbling attempts at self-improvement, with a careful eye for the small details of addiction and friendship.
And then a giant monster attacks Korea.
Vigalondo does not take long to start drawing connections between these different strands, and the way that the subdued indie dramadey feeds into the kaiju mania happening on the other side of the film feels more natural than it has any right to. Vigalondo is such a confident filmmaker that he can toggle between the fantastical and the everyday with total aplomb, and he’s just as at ease with the tonal switch-ups. Big gasps and big guffaws are interwoven from one moment to the next, their proximity enhancing, not distracting, one another.
It works in large part because the cast is so game to try whatever Vigalondo throws at them. This is one of Hathaway’s best performances, the sort of lived-in and deeply felt turn that made her name before the Oscars came calling. Hathaway’s unafraid to be unlikable, and she steers hard into Gloria’s harshest moments and makes no apologies.
Sudeikis matches her blow for blow for that front, steadily pulling back the curtain on the neuroses and failings haunting Oscar. What begins as a standard “lovable buddy” sidekick character gradually comes into focus as something richer and deeper, and Sudeikis turns in some of the best work of his career in the final stretches.
Stevens, Nelson, and Stowell are more on the margins, but each man knows how to shade their performances to suggest full people even when they walk off screen. Nelson’s been one of the best character actors in the business for a long time now, and he in particular brings a nuanced sadness to what could have been a tossed off sideline character.
Due respect must be paid to the creature FX team, who make mountains out of what must have been monetary molehills. Vigalondo clearly knew he couldn’t ladle on the destruction and mayhem with the frequency of the blockbusters, so he very cannily chooses key moments in which to bring the monster out to play. The big guy in the flesh is a well-crafted homage to the classic Toho monsters, with the animators and visual effects teams doing an excellent job in finding the character beats and behaviors that express real personality in the unreal being.
Timecrimes more than proved that Vigalondo was someone to keep an eye on, and with Colossal he more than cements himself as one of the best and smartest filmmakers working in genre film today, with a voice that shines through even with Hollywood faces and larger spectacle. His camera moves with precision, compositions serving to underline emotion and camera without ever rubbing your face in their kinetic energy. Even with the bombast that does pronounce itself as the film continues, director and actors alike never lose sight of the more intimate emotional beats. It’s a tricky balancing act, but this writer-director and his cast prove more than up to the task of walking that tightrope.