Two seemingly incongruous categories — the small-scale romantic doodle and the rampaging-creature feature — are brought together in Nacho Vigalondo’s Colossal, a film that never really fulfills the potential of its adventurous premise. This monster mash-up argues the opposite of what Humphrey Bogart declared in Casablanca: The problems of two little Americans are of monumental importance in this crazy world, or at least on the other side of the globe. But what could have been a barbed look at extreme narcissism, whether individual or national, is reduced to that mildest of metaphors, the road to recovery.
In that respect, Colossal, Vigalondo’s fourth feature (and the first of his that I’ve seen), isn’t too far removed from Jonathan Demme’s Rachel Getting Married (2008); both films center on a substance-abusing mess played by Anne Hathaway. In Demme’s movie, the manipulative protagonist excels at toxic femininity, insisting that the whole world revolves around her. That concept is made literal in Colossal, in which the drunken antics of Hathaway’s Gloria have calamitous effects on the citizens of Seoul, terrorized by a behemoth beast that, we soon learn, is the boozer’s avatar.
Kicked out of the Manhattan apartment she shares with her imperious boyfriend (Dan Stevens) for one tipple too many, Gloria retreats to her hometown, a vaguely leafy Anywheresville that hints at the generalities to come. She reunites with Oscar (Jason Sudeikis), an elementary-school pal who offers the jobless woman — Gloria was let go from her online magazine gig for a never-disclosed misjudged play on words — a few shifts at his bar. Unable to resist the PBR that surrounds her, Gloria tunes in to the news the next day to discover the consequences of her face-planting: “I killed a shitload of people because I was acting like a drunk idiot again.”
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Soon Gloria and her mammoth manifestation have a nemesis: Oscar and his own outsize alter-ego, a giant robot that further menaces South Korea. Their battles, at home and abroad, grow bloodier when the initially genial local guy, who never left the neighborhood, reveals what a petty, possessive bottle-abuser he is — a noxious misery beyond the ken of Sudeikis, incapable of conveying self-contempt. That inability to be fully contemptible or even mildly dangerous also hampers Hathaway, a performer who always seems so eager for audience adoration. Engaging ideas bubble up every so often in Colossal, a film that carries out magical thinking to its extreme. But the audacity of its conceit is inexorably tamed, becoming an all-too-familiar lesson on saying no.