US (2016) Dir. Nacho Vigalondo
I don’t drink. As a teen I was unable to admit this because of peer pressure and it was because of this that I grew to actively resent the whole drinking culture, but as an adult, I can declare my abstinence with pride. Plus alcohol tastes disgusting! But while drinking has been used as a comedy prop in film, quite often its dangers remain overlooked or over-dramatised.
So kudos to Spanish director Nacho Vigalondo for finding a unique way to impart this important message with this darkly comic fantasy tale. Gloria (Anne Hathaway) is an unemployed writer with a drink problem that pushes her boyfriend Tim (Dan Stevens) to the limit, throwing her out of his New York apartment. Gloria is forced to return to her hometown in Mainhead where she resides in her old family home.
There Gloria reconnects with her old school friend Oscar (Jason Sudeikis) and he offers Gloria a job in his late father’s bar, where Oscar and his pals Garth (Tim Blake Nelson) and Joel (Austin Stowell) enjoy nightly after-work drinking sessions. This doesn’t bother Gloria until news reports reveal a giant bipedal amphibian creature running havoc in Seoul, South Korea, which only appears when Gloria has been on a bender.
Not the plot you were expecting I am sure and no doubt sounds too stupid to make sense but lest we forget, James Stewart was Oscar nominated for playing an alcoholic with an invisible 6ft rabbit as a friend. It is too easy to hit hard with a message about the far-reaching effects of alcohol so sometimes a little creative subterfuge is required to grab people’s attention, which Colossal certainly does.
People of a certain vintage may recall a t-shirt bearing the slogan “Instant Arsehole: Just Add Alcohol” which is exemplified in this film in one of its key themes, but doesn’t hang its hat on it, illustrating how booze brings out the worst in people, or perhaps more accurately, their true colours. Beneath the fanciful concept lies a damning psychological character study of people hiding or paradoxically exposing their weakness with a little help from the bottle.
Maybe we should feel sorry for Gloria having such a sensible, conservative boyfriend like Tim, but their opening exchange hints that Gloria’s drinking is a recurring problem in their relationship. In a “cruel to be fair” scenario, sending Gloria packing ideally should be the wake-up call she needs but instead she won’t accept culpability. Joining Oscar at his bar is obviously adding fuel to the fire but his employment and the additional help he has given her (furniture, accessories, etc) is the pick me up she needs.
Then there is the small matter of this humungous beast attacking Seoul. How is it connected to Gloria? Well, to divulge that would be to ruin the film but I can reveal that in retracing her steps in the drunken haze from the night before, the correlating factor is Gloria being at a child’s playground at exactly 8:05 am.
Online footage shows the creature emulating Gloria’s tic of scratching her head, leading to a light comic moment of her dancing in the park whilst Oscar and the others watch the live feed from Seoul of the beast duplicating it move for move. The plot thickens when a giant robot appears in Seoul one morning, which happened to be when Oscar accidentally walked into shot.
It sounds oblique read in such sparse context but the script does converge this with the overarching thread of drinking, the catalyst being Gloria’s contrition at harming the people of Seoul and Oscar’s jealousy when Gloria has a one night stand with the younger and hunkier Joel, upsetting Oscar and turning him into the aforementioned instant arsehole.
Yet there is a pseudo-feminist subtext driving this story that may get lost beneath the giant monster spectacle and the drink awareness polemic, that posits Gloria as a planet round which the men in her life orbit, unable to relinquish her gravitational pull. Tim, for example, misses Gloria and tries to win her back; when Oscar turns into a grouch Joel and Garth take his abuse like a coward while Gloria stands her ground, proving to be his Achilles heel, if only he would recognise it.
Gloria is much stronger character than she gives herself credit for and while she doesn’t need the booze, she doesn’t really need men either – they need her! I must confess to not being a fan of Anne Hathaway in the few films I’ve seen her in but she is exceptionally good here, making Gloria resilient but vulnerable, flawed but relatable. And her delivery of the film’s closing line deserves to be hailed alongside “Well, nobody’s perfect” as iconic.
The giant beast and the robot are a throwback to the Godzilla practice of a man in a suit despite the creatures being CGI creations the reproduction is very convincing. Whether the explanation of how this phenomenon first occurred will satisfy those already baffled or not is the key to how invest one is in the resolve, but there is enough stark reality in its whimsy to provoke discussion.
A few plot holes and lapses in credibility are inevitable in such an ambitious concept and this film isn’t immune to them, but if one can recognise the psychosomatic fulcrum of the story, they can be forgiven. The only complaint I have is that the scant speaking parts for the Korean characters are evidently filled by Asian Americans, not necessarily of Korean descent. Tsk tsk!
Because of the casting and the fact this was a Hollywood flick I was sceptical as to whether the Kaiju element of Colossal would be enough to justify my viewing it. I can say that I am pleasantly surprised that I did, and happily endorse this intelligent treatise on the perils of drinking and the folly of self-image for those looking to add something different to their watch list.