The monster has appeared on the streets and in the skyline of bustling Seoul, South Korea, destroying everything in its path, though thankfully leaving no real casualties beyond injuries. The woman has entered a drunken state after a night in her old friend's bar, and stupid things have been done in the interim. She, as with most hangovers, remembers nothing of the night before. How these two threads connect is at the heart of Colossal, a clever and troubling mixture of comedy and drama that attempts to merge the two warring tones and fumbles the attempt. The film still works, though, because of the truly bonkers nature of this premise. It seems prudent to dance around the meat of that premise, as director Nacho Vigalondo's screenplay has a lot of surprises in store. Not all of those surprises are good, but I'm getting ahead of myself.
The monster looks nothing like its obvious Japanese counterpart. The design here is more anthropomorphic, which is a good decision on the part of the filmmakers, especially as the pieces of the narrative fall together. There is a good thirty minutes of build-up to that point, by the way, upon which we are confronted with the creature terrorizing South Korea. The visual effects aren't exactly precise, but they needn't be. There's a playful quality to the execution of the visual effects that matches well to the rhythms of the opening hour of the film, which is primarily a comedy about the mountain of insecurities within one woman and about a supernatural event that threatens national tragedy half a world away. Again, the way in which these threads connect is awkward, but I'm still getting ahead of myself.
There's going to be a lot of that kind of roundabout avoidance of the biggest and worst surprise in Vigalondo's story, which is, even at its most troubled, a fable about how insecurities and foibles can manifest themselves. The woman is Gloria (Anne Hathaway), of whom we learn about a drinking problem that, like all such addictions, transforms her into a different person. It's subtle but noticeable, especially in the first time we see her in a bar. She is handed a bottle of beer, and something shifts. A different persona - one that is a little more outwardly sarcastic, accompanied by carefully placed profanity - emerges that wasn't quite there before. That kind of nuance informs a first half of a film that has two, distinctively disparate ones. The first half is the more effective one.
Part of that appeal is in Hathaway's performance, which is a superb balancing act between two facades. One of those is in place when Gloria drinks, of course, that of a carefree spirit. The other is when she is away from the bottle, as we can detect that, perhaps, her every thought is dictated by both wanting and very much not wanting said bottle. The complexity of Hathaway's performance lay in always searching for which side is the more dominant. Gloria has found her way back to her hometown after a messy break-up with Tim (Dan Stevens), who refused to put up with her late nights out and the subsequent lying to cover up her real activities. Camping out in the home that was her parents' rental, she happens upon Oscar (Jason Sudeikis), a childhood friend, who is happy to help her transition into the old house and to hook her up with a job, for which she has been looking for a year.
Gloria is not the only character here who exists in two modes. There is another, and the second half shifts into dramatic territory. The shift isn't the problem; in fact, such a shift is, in theory, welcome in a movie that handles as many elements as this. The problem is in the specifics, which one must also dance around when talking about them. The handling of that other character is dishonest and jarring, with a scene of crucial context seemingly missing that might have informed the jarring shift in treatment. The fallout is a movie of surprisingly mean spirit that betrays the earlier, more playful stretches. Colossal, though, is a bit better than this shift suggests, again because of the nature of the premise and in the film's most truthful moments.
Anne Hathaway (Gloria), Jason Sudeikis (Oscar), Austin Stowell (Joel), Tim Blake Nelson (Garth), Dan Stevens (Tim).
Directed and written by Nacho Vigalondo.
Rated R (language).
Released in select cities on April 7, 2017.