Gloria (Anne Hathaway), a feckless alcoholic, is thrown out by her prissy, if long-suffering boyfriend Tim (Dan Stevens) and has nowhere to go but her childhood home … where she settles in on an inflatable mattress she doesn’t know how to keep buoyant, and starts chewing over the wreckage of her life. She runs into Oscar (Jason Sudeikis), a childhood friend with a too-ready smile, who runs a half-renovated bar, and hangs out with other semi-losers, jittery closet cokehead Garth (Tim Blake Nelson) and handsome but fatally passive Joel (Austin Stowell). As this quirky, insightful, funny-sad little indie movie small town drama plays out – with Hathaway, bulked out from her Catwoman slenderness and making Gloria as appalled by her own behaviour as anyone else, giving a Sundance type star performance on a par with, say, Jennifer Lawrence in Winter’s Bone, Elizabeth Olson in Martha Marcy May Marlene or Melissa Leo in anything – the world is transfixed by nightly appearances of a giant, building-trampling, helicopter-swatting monster in Seoul.
Recognising that the kaiju mimics a distinctive head-scratching gesture of hers, Gloria realises that it is a projection of her id – and that it shows up whenever she is in the vicinity of a playground early in the morning. Unwisely, but understandably, she takes her beer buddies into her confidence, and it turns out that Oscar too manifests in Seoul, as a giant robot. The creature appeared once before, when Gloria was a child, and now she starts picking at the scabs of her memory for the origin story of this bizarre phenomenon – which also gives her an insight into how her life has gone off the rails. Nevertheless, she keeps making bad decisions – including a hook-up with Joel that has a disastrous ripple effect, and struggles towards making things right in the world before she can concentrate again on herself.
Spanish writer-director Nacho Vigalondo (Timecrimes, Extraterrestrial, Open Windows) has been marking out his own territory with Twilight Zone-ish pulp premises, off-kilter personal dramas and a knack for intricate yet satisfying plotting. Here, working in America (and Korea) with an A-list star, he delivers his highest-profile film and pleasingly retains his own vision. As the heroine is synced with her monster doppelganger, Hathaway seems to be a full partner in this film, making Gloria relatable yet infuriating. She may be surrounded by guys who are useless, patronising or malign, but she keeps doing the wrong thing – only, in addition to taking the walk of hung-over shame, she has to live with the realisation that her blundering has literally ‘killed a whole bunch of people’. Sudeikis, usually a comic foil, also gets a nuanced role as a guy who turns out to be a lot more damaged than he seems – Oscar’s house is full of too much furniture (which parallels Gloria’s empty home) and pictures of his former fiancee with her face scratched out, and he simmers with resentments, desires and impulses that have only spun out of control since childhood. In the home stretch, Gloria and Oscar’s lifelong, half-understood relationship pays off logically in a series of solid, well-set-up twists and at least one ‘big cheer’ moment.
To get on board with Colossal, you have to be prepared to take the giant monster stuff seriously and commit to the indie woman-in-a-spin drama. If you can stretch to that, it’s one of the best films of the year.