When Gloria (Anne Hathaway) comes home drunk one too many times, her frustrated boyfriend Tim (Dan Stevens) throws her out of his swank New York City apartment. So homeless — and jobless — Gloria grudgingly returns to the empty family home upstate.
That turns out to be the setting for Colossal, written and directed by Nacho Vigalondo. You might have heard it’s a monster movie, but in fact, it’s an indie-ish character-study dramedy that just happens to have a city-crushing monster in it.
But first: While lugging an air mattress, Gloria runs into Oscar (Jason Sudeikis), whom she hasn’t talked to since junior high. He never left town, and now runs his dad’s bar. Well, half a bar. There’s not much business, so he’s walled off the former country-and-western-themed joint intact behind stacked pallets. It’s there that Gloria, Oscar and his two pals, Joel (Austin Stowell) and Garth (Tim Blake Nelson), while away the wee hours, getting drunk and shooting the shit.
Oscar gives Gloria a waitressing gig, and her life takes some shape. But she’s still getting loaded, and one hungover morning, she makes a startling discovery: A giant monster — a standard super-sized upright lizard — that has been wreaking havoc in Seoul, South Korea, is directly connected to her.
It’s best to let the specifics of this strange link and how the rest of the story unfolds remain a surprise. Instead, let’s focus on the central metaphor of Vigalondo’s genre-hopping work — that Gloria is a sort of monster, especially when she drinks and becomes uncontrollable.
And what makes people monsters? Well, everything from petty disagreements to deep-rooted frustrations. Oh, and adding alcohol — which turns the daily dumb things and submerged emotions into full-blown catastrophes. So, somebody throws a beer in New York, and the consequences are devastating … in Korea.
Colossal isn’t without humor, and while not a monster movie, it does offer plenty of homage to classic kaiju films, like Godzilla (in which, on set, there was literally a man in a monster suit pretending to crush major cities).
While the allegorical parts of the film invite you to think, it’s probably best to turn off some of your brain for the explanatory backstory and the conclusion, which I found to be less satisfying than the grander, who-knows-why conceit of the human-monster analog. Colossal asks us to extend sympathy for the emotional needs of one kinda-bratty American woman (portrayed by the likable Hathaway), but there’s never a full picture of the devastating emotional damage likely occurring in Korea. The internet livestream that depicts the horrors of the monster attack collapses the physical distance between New York and Seoul, but that glass screen also renders such terrible events as just another interesting thing to watch.