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Colossal
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by Peter Sobczynski

"The Kaiju Wears Prada"
5 stars

“Colossal” is one of those movies that is so audacious in so many ways that most viewers will find themselves needing to see it twice—the first time to be amazed and entertained by all of the impressive and unique things that it has to offer it has to offer and the second to be equally amazed by the fact that something so strange and wild and daring could have actually made it before the cameras without having all the things that make it so impressive and unique dumbed down or eliminated entirely in a misguided effort to make it more “accessible” to audiences. It belongs on that shelf with such works as “Being John Malkovich” and “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” in the way that it takes a premise that, taken solely at face value, is so utterly outlandish that there are literally hundreds of different ways in which it could have stepped wrong and somehow manages to avoid or overcome all of the potential pitfalls that it encounters along the way. (Needless to say, this is one of those films that is best experienced for the first time knowing as little about it as possible and while I will tread as lightly as possible in terms of details, some of you may want to check out now in order to avoid potential spoilers.)

Anne Hathaway stars as Gloria, a spoiled New York party person—she is just a little too old to be referred to as a “party girl”—who spends her days not working and her nights getting drunk and screwing around with her pals. For her, it is all fun and games but her boyfriend, Tim (Dan Stevens), has finally had enough and kicks her out of his apartment and life for good. With nowhere else to go, Gloria heads back to her hometown in the sticks, where her childhood house her family still owns sits empty and unused, in order to figure out her next step. While schlepping an air mattress back to the house, she runs into old childhood friend Oscar (Jason Sudekis), a nice guy who runs the local bar and who almost immediately offers her a job to help her get back on her feet. It is clear that Oscar has feelings for her that he has presumably been nursing for a long time but Gloria just as clearly has no romantic interest in him, though she likes him enough as a friend and is grateful for the job. At first, she makes a genuine go at being responsible but she inevitably falters and over the course of one long night after closing with Oscar and his friends Garth (Tim Blake Nelson) and Joel (Austin Stowell), she winds up getting hammered.

That is bad enough but when she wakes up and turns on the news, she is confronted with unimaginable news—a giant Godzilla-like monster has materialized out of nowhere and has laid waste to parts of Seoul before vanishing just as mysteriously. Gloria tries to use this tragedy as a way of reconnecting with Tim while showing that she is trying to be responsible but that falls through when she is informed that the attack happened nine hours earlier and she slept through most of the day. After another long night out with the guys, Gloria learns of another attack on Seoul by the monster but while looking at footage of the chaos, she sees the creature doing something that is. . .well, more than a little familiar. Eventually, she becomes convinced that there is some kind of connection between her and the events occurring thousands of miles away and at this point, I will not say anything more so as not to ruin any of the surprises that the film still has in store.

This is more or less what I knew about “Colossal” as I walked into my screening based on reports that I had seen from those who had seen it on the festival circuit over the past few months. I am not entirely certain what kind of film I was expecting to see from those scraps of information but I know I never would dreamed of any of the things that writer-director Nacho Vigalondo (who was responsible for an interesting time-travel saga from a few years ago entitled “Timecrimes”) has in store for viewers. One of the problems with seeing a couple of hundred movies a year is that the basic storyline templates become so ingrained after a while that with the vast majority of films coming out, one only needs to have seen about the first 15-20 minutes, if that, in order to figure out, at least in the broad strokes, how everything is going to turn out in the end. “Colossal” is the exception to that rule in that whenever you think that you have a grip on what is happening and where it might be heading, Vigalondo throws another curveball that shakes things up and forces you to pay attention once again. These twists are not the kind or arbitrary rug-pulling that some screenplays deploy in a desperate attempt to keep interest either—they are all smart and inspired moves that only serve to deepen and improve the story while giving it the kind of strong emotional power that one would not normally associate with a film involving giant monsters.

And yet, this is not one of those movies in which all of the pleasures come solely from watching the craziness of the concept unfold and leaving nothing left to hold on to during a second viewing. For a film like “Colossal” to succeed, it needs to find just the right tone and maintain it perfectly throughout as even the slightest slip could lead to disastrous consequences. “Colossal” not only pulls off that complicated trick, it manages to keep up even when the film begins to shift its tone in unexpected ways. While it is introducing its premise, it maintains the kind of quietly absurdist tone of the works of Charlie Kaufman in the way that it dreams up utterly outlandish concepts and then proceeds to present them in ways that allow viewers to recognize the universal truths working behind them rather than simply laugh at the lunacies involved. After all, who among us hasn’t found themselves caught in a cycle of intense self-loathing that convinces them that they are indeed wreaking havoc on everyone around them just by their mere existence? Thanks to the awareness that her actions apparently have wide-ranging consequences, Gloria resolves to be a better person and the film charts her improvement as she is able to overcome the things holding her back—ranging from her own considerable demons to the less-than-helpful boyfriend who kicks her out at the first sign of trouble but then desperately wants her back the moment she suggests that she is doing fine on her own—in engaging and uplifting ways. At the same time, there is a darker strain bubbling just below the surface and when it can no longer be contained, the film shifts into an honest-to-goodness horror story with a considerable and cruel antagonist that needs to be overcome. This element is introduced in such a sly and smart manner that it may well take a couple of viewings to realize just how effective Vigalondo has pulled it all off.

Further helping to provide “Colossal” with a recognizable human core that grounds the otherwise fantastical story and prevents it from spinning off the rails into total anarchy are the performances from the two leads. For reasons that I have never quite understand, the practically-perfect-in-every-way denizens of the Internet have had it in for Anne Hathaway by leveling a degree of hate towards her that seems excessive even despite the unfortunate fact that she was in “Bride Wars.” I dunno what it is about being a beautiful, talented and popular Oscar-winning actress that brings out the snark in some people but even those haters are liable to find themselves tossing bouquets at her for this is the best performance that she has done in a long time. Her work as Gloria is especially inspired as it works simultaneously on two different levels. On one, she fully embraces the weirdo conceit of the film by playing it as if it were real and plausible instead of straining to act as goofy as everything else, thereby helping to solidify the non-cartoonish approach of the script. At the same time that all the monster movie strangeness is going on, she is also charting a completely recognizable and convincing portrait of a woman who is at long last struggling to break out of a long-running cycle of self-destruction and become her own person in the face of both her own demons and those who would prefer that she not change so that they do not have a reason to recognize or reassess their own bad habits. As for Sudekis, he gives what I believe is his best performance in a film to date as Oscar, whose deftly skewers the cliche of the affable small-town guy who teaches the troubled woman from the big city about what is important in life in ways that show that he has his own set of demons that are just as toxic and troubling as Gloria’s. Although his screen time is comparatively meager compared to his co-stars, Tim Blake Nelson turns up to remind us that there is hardly a movie in existence (though I am sure someone will volunteer a title or two just to be irritating) that is not immediately improved, if only for a scene or two, by his presence.

“Colossal” only begins to step wrong during its final scenes—it offers an explanation for the weird events that we have seen that is patently unnecessary while some of the details regarding the final confrontation are a bit on the hazy side—but the film as a whole is so good in so many other ways that it seems a little ungenerous to harp on them (Besides, if you can’t grant a little narrative leeway to a film involving a giant monster laying waste to Seoul, there is an excellent chance that it isn’t the film for you in the first place.) This is a film that isn’t afraid to be bold and to take chances and it is a real treat to see as many of them pay off as they do here. Trust me, if more films—not just the kind of genre fare that is about to flood the multiplexes this summer—did that to even half the degree that “Colossal” does, going to the movies would be a lot more entertaining and invigorating for both of us.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=31140&reviewer=389
originally posted: 04/14/17 01:31:33
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USA
  07-Apr-2017 (R)

UK
  N/A

Australia
  07-Apr-2017




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