Monster Mash

It’s nearly 24 hours since I saw the new movie Colossal, and I’m not sure what I think of it. I’ve never seen anything like it, and trust me, neither have you—so for that reason alone Colossal might be worth your time. The question I can’t seem to answer yet is whether its originality makes Colossal legitimately good or just surpassingly weird.

So Gloria (Anne Hathaway) is a hot mess of a New York party girl. In a beautifully written scene—the screenplay is by the film’s Spanish director, the wonderfully named Nacho Vigalondo—Gloria arrives at the apartment she shares with her boyfriend Tim (Dan Stevens) with a drunken cock-and-bull story about having stayed out all night because she had to go to “the loft” with Stephanie. An enraged Tim says he doesn’t know what loft she’s talking about, or who Stephanie is, and announces he’s packed her bags and is throwing her out.

Crushed by Tim’s anger, and unemployed due to having done something offensive on social media, she retreats to her hometown in upstate New York and runs into her childhood friend Oscar (Jason Sudeikis). She begins to hang out with him at the bar he inherited from his father. Oscar is charming and kind, and they banter engagingly; Colossal appears to be a romantic comedy in the making. It’s light and kind of sweet, a “damaged girl goes home and finds love and healing with the boy next door” story.

Only, no, not really, because Gloria wakes up after blacking out during another in the endless series of drunken nights that have ruined her life to discover that, well, a 200-foot. monster has appeared in the South Korean capital of Seoul and has killed thousands.

What’s more—and this is where the movie takes a running leap into uncharted territory—Gloria comes to realize that the monster is literally a manifestation of her. It only appears in Seoul when she sets foot in a kiddie playground near her house at exactly 8:05 a.m. She is its puppeteer. Its arms follow her arm motions; it walks when she walks. The playground beneath her feet functions like an invisible scale model of Seoul.

None of this constitutes a spoiler, because this is the point at which Colossal gets really weird. Gloria may be a wreck, but she’s a decent person and she’s horrified by all this. But the guys around her—Oscar and two denizens of his bar, the wastrel Garth (Tim Blake Nelson) and the handsome dullard Joel (Austin Stowell)—are thrilled by the discovery that something earthshaking is happening in the small town from which they have never managed to escape.

Her efforts to end the monster’s reign of terror in Seoul are stymied when another giant error manifests itself in Seoul—and when her old boyfriend arrives in town to try and get her back. Gloria comes to realize that she inevitably ends up in the company of men who act nominally helpful, even paternal, but are in fact belittling and controlling. She is trapped both by her own self-destructive behavior and by the emotional battery to which she is subjected by the men in her life.

Anne Hathaway, an actress of exceptional gifts who has spent years being oddly maligned for her excessively cheery off-screen behavior, here builds on the stunning performance she gave as a brilliant family disaster in the terrific 2008 film Rachel Getting Married. She is onscreen in nearly every moment and never makes a false move. But the revelation here is the comic actor Jason Sudeikis, once a Saturday Night Live stalwart. His Oscar is a character of many shadings, and Sudeikis shifts tone and spirit on a dime without ever being anything less than utterly compelling and believable.

So, as I’ve been writing this very article, I have convinced myself that, yes, Colossal is a very good movie. Even though he seems a little infatuated with the movie’s own strangeness, Nacho Vigalondo not only succeeds in holding our attention but takes us through narrative and character turns we do not expect—and manages to keep us from rolling our eyes at Colossal‘s infinitely absurd premise. This is one feminist empowerment movie even a mansplainer could love.

John Podhoretz, editor of Commentary, is The Weekly Standard‘s movie critic.

This post originally appeared on Weekly Standard


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