Opening this weekend:
Colossal—Manhattanite Gloria (Anne Hathaway) isn't a bad sort, but she's gotten into the habit of drinking and partying and neglecting her boyfriend. When he pretty justifiably gets fed up and dumps her and kicks her out of the apartment, she moves back to her small hometown upstate, gets a job in a bar owned by her old classmate Oscar (Jason Sudeikis), and starts trying, vaguely, to regroup her life.
While this is happening, on the other side of the world, a horned, glowering, Godzilla-sized monster suddenly materializes, seemingly out of nowhere, in downtown Seoul, South Korea. The beast appears every day or so at the same time, behaving sometimes destructively, sometimes just peculiarly, and then vanishes just as inexplicably. The locals are terrified, and the world's sense of reality is shaken, yet back in the upstate New York bar, things settle back into routine soon enough.
How these two story strands very specifically connect, and how it leads to a second titan appearing in the streets of Seoul, is the subject of Nacho Vigalondo's brilliant, off-the-wall exploration of the psychological underpinnings of the giant monster movie. In many films of this sort, the subtext is environmental or social, but here it's rooted in petty personal weaknesses and acrimonies that seem entirely convincing. It's about the micro of human resentfulness, expressed in the macro of rampaging colossi.
This is the most imaginative use of the giant-monster form since the Korean movie The Host, back in 2006. In some ways Colossal also resembles the sort of surrealist-lite comedies that started showing up more than a decade ago, like Being John Malkovich and Cold Souls. But Vigalondo gives it a fairly rigorous internal consistency. About the only lapse in believability that the movie asks us to overlook is the idea that if this was happening, Seoul, or at least that part of Seoul, wouldn't be evacuated, that shops and restaurants would still be open and the streets would still be teeming with people. Otherwise, the movie is—on its own terms, of course—quite logical.
It owes much of its authentic feel to the acting. Sudeikis, always reliable, brings an impressively subtle tension to Oscar, and Tim Blake Nelson and Austin Stowell add warmth as his buddies. At first these guys seem meant only to give us easy-going small town banter, but Vigalondo gradually takes even this side of the material into uncomfortable, unsentimental realms.
The real force in Colossal, however, is Hathaway's funny yet stingingly honest underplaying as the intelligent, sheepish, emotionally bedraggled Gloria. It may be her best performance.