Colossal Is Weird, But Worth The Watch

Hello, everyone! Sorry for the extra long gap between posts. I hate to leave you hanging with a strange ode/critique to Taylor Swift. After writing that article I listened to Swift’s entire discography. Whether you find that to be sweet or alarming is really up to your opinion on the singer, but I gotta say, she  makes sad bus rides go a lot faster.  On a completely unrelated topic, tonight I watched Colossal for the last screening of my film analysis class. It’s such a bizarre, unique film that I’m not sure whether it deserves praise or ridicule. Perhaps that’s why it succeeds. It doesn’t play it safe or even try to be normal. Colossal wears its heart on its sleeve, with endearing and annoying results. In a marketplace filled with lukewarm comedies and robotic  blockbusters, Colossal is more than sincere enough to make up for its flaws.

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Synopsis: After a fight with her boyfriend Tim over her alcoholic tendencies, Gloria moves from NYC to her old hometown to figure herself out. She reconnects with Oscar, a childhood friend, who invites her to work at his bar. While Gloria tries to stay focused on her new life, she’s distracted by the news of a monster randomly attacking Seoul, the very same monster who attacked 25 years before. Things get even more complicated when Gloria realises that she has a psychic control over the monster and that Oscar, too, has control over a giant robot. At first the two are giddy over the news, but as Oscar becomes more and more possessive over Gloria, their friendship transforms into a feud. With millions of lives hanging in the balance, Gloria must defend not only herself from Oscar’s abuse, but also the entire city of Seoul.

My take: Colossal is a polarising movie for several reasons. First, its plot is bonkers bizarre. I wish I had been in the room when director Nacho Vigalondo proposed the idea because I have no idea idea how it was picked up. An alcoholic controlling the actions of a spontaneously appearing Godzilla monster is odd enough, but adding the drama of Oscar’s abuse and his almost pathological evil makes the movie even stranger. Second, the way this intense drama is presented barely walks the line between horrifying and comical. In one climactic scene, Oscar brutally beats Gloria to the ground, then stomps around a playground while sounds of screams and toppling buildings are heard in the background.  For this viewer, the combination of visuals and sound worked, but I heard many other audience members grumbling when they left the movie theatre. Third, the movie is boring until the connection between Gloria and the monster shows up about 20 minutes into the film. With awkward editing (the beginning scenes were nonsensical when joined together) and lame dialogue, I had written off the movie as a waste of time. Granted, my mind changed once the conflict between Gloria and Oscar got heated, but a better movie would have made more of its exposition. Since it’s such a 50/50 film, I’ll break up Colossal into what works and what doesn’t.

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What Works: The strongest part of the film is the main conflict between Gloria and Oscar. I really enjoyed how Jason Sudeikis was cast against type. I’m used to his comical characters on SNL and in films like We’re The Millers, so to see him in the role of a violent, controlling, self-loathing antagonist was refreshing. I enjoyed how the film played up the budding romance between Gloria and Oscar by making it seem like the plot was heading towards a Seeking a Friend for the End of the World apocalypse romance, and then subverting that trope when Gloria sleeps with Oscar’s friend Joel and provokes his wrath. Looking back, Vigalondo clues in  viewers to Oscar’s not-so-nice-guy persona earlier on in the film when Oscar flips out at dimwitted Joel for trying to kiss Gloria. But his transformation is just subtle enough to earn genuine shock from the viewer. It cleverly imitates the growth of a real abusive relationship. When Oscar first meets Gloria, he showers her with gifts and food and gives her a job within a day of meeting her. It’s not until she starts to exhibit signs of independence that he reveals his true self: the type of man who would use his powers to murder millions of innocent people to keep a woman in his control.

When it comes to the actual abuse scenes, the film is uneven. I thought it was bold that the film showed an actual fight scene between a man and a woman, but I also disliked how both characters fought within the realm of gender stereotypes. For instance, when Gloria fought Oscar, she relied on typically “feminine” moves like slapping, kicking in the balls, biting the hands, and one or two punches. And Oscar, being the essence of a “manly man,” never expresses pain with more than a grunt. But in the one scene where Oscar fights Gloria, he punches her in the face (breaking a vessel) and shoves her to the ground and she’s out for the count. I understand that Oscar is far bigger and stronger than Gloria, but I do wish that Gloria had been given the same pain tolerance that Oscar was and hadn’t been beaten so quickly. What really bothered me was when Oscar was attempting to restrain her and she said “you’re hurting me,” as if it was all fun and games until Oscar started to defend himself. I don’t condone physical abuse in any way, but if two people are in a physical fight, as this scene was supposed to be, then I think it’s fair for the man to be fighting just as hard as the girl.

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The film has an enormous heart. When it dug into those emotions, such as when Gloria defended Seoul on the playground, or when Gloria flew to Seoul for her final showdown with Oscar, the movie really shines. The audience in my theatre cheered and gasped along with the audience in the film. Colossal succeeds when it focuses on the connection between Gloria, the monster, and her compassion for the people of Seoul. There were some cute, funny parts between Gloria and Joel, or Gloria and Tim, but the minor characters were usually only drawbacks to the main plot. Like I mentioned before, the dialogue was really terrible in the beginning of the film but increased in quality as the story grew more intense. The last scenes between Gloria and Oscar were superb.

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What Didn’t Work: One huge problem I had with the film was its attempt to create a plausible explanation for Gloria’s connection with the monster.  It went a little something like this: Oscar, always jealous of Gloria, stomped on her diorama of Seoul as they were walking to school. They were struck by lightning (I think?) and Gloria was psychically connected with her monster doll, while Oscar was psychically connected with his robot doll. This somehow magically created Godzilla sized versions of the dolls who appear in Seoul whenever Gloria or Oscar walk through the playground at 8:05 in the morning. While creative, the backstory came off as implausible and a tad stupid. Moreover, it was unnecessary. There was no need to explain how Gloria is connected to the monster because by the time Gloria faces off against Oscar, the “how” is irrelevant. All that matters is that Gloria is using her monster for good and Oscar is using his for evil. That’s all I cared about. The pseudo-science only drew attention to how silly the story was in the first place.

If the backstory was dead weight for the plot, then Tim, Joel, and Garth were dead weight characters. Tim was miscast – Dan Stevens should stick to playing mysterious super soldiers instead – and his character was uneven. At one moment he breaks up with Gloria, at the next he’s begging her to come back for no discernible reason. As a catalyst for Oscar’s jealousy, he works, but so does Joel. There’s no need for both of them. Speaking of Joel, what a putz! He is such a malleable character. He sleeps with Gloria, then watches, emotionless, as Oscar beats her. And then he helps Oscar deliver furniture to her house. I saw traces of a personality in Joel, but he was never developed beyond a handsome bystander to Oscar’s evil. Garth, Oscar’s other friend was also entirely unnecessary. He mainly functioned as a not-so-successful comic relief and as a plot device to reveal Oscar’s temper. I think that the movie could have been pared down to a cast of Gloria, Oscar, and a Tim-Joel composite and been a lot more successful.

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I haven’t mentioned Anne Hathaway’s performance yet and that’s because I’m not exactly sure where to put her.  In the beginning of the film I found her insufferable, but towards the end I started to enjoy her performance. She does her usual tics – Kewpie-doll eyes, smug smile, mumble voice – but perhaps since she’s aged a bit since I last saw her in a movie, I like her more. I think she carries the role of reluctant hero well and I wouldn’t mind seeing her in a role like this again. But I do wish that we didn’t have to wade through so much Anne Hathaway-ness to get to see her as a hero.

Final Consensus: Colossal is a movie you will love or hate, but either way it’s worth seeing. It’s heartwarming, it’s scary, it’s tragic, and it’s comical, sometimes all at the same time. Its tone is uneven and its scope is unwieldy, but it takes risks. How many films these days can claim to do the same?

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