A Monster is Approaching Hollywood

A certain subset of the genre-focused audience at Fantastic Fest entered Colossal completely in the dark as to the premise. They were visibly restless for the first few minutes as we saw Big City Party Girl Gloria evicted from her cushy apartment by her boyfriend, Tim, and move back to A Small Town to recuperate in the crystalized metaphor of her parents’ empty home. There she meets Oscar, a Solid Small Town Guy who gives her a job as a waitress in his bar, perfect for learning about responsibility and people – a set of first beats right out of of a Katherine Heigl rom-com.

People were wondering what they’d gotten into.
Luckily for them, the paint by numbers setup was a misdirect, and rising directorial talent Nacho Vigalando (director of Timecrimes, Extraterrestrial, Open Windows) quickly jerked the wheel into surrealist fable territory, stranding his cast of accessible ordinaries in a bizzaro scenario more in keeping with Neil Gaiman than Bridget Jones: One morning after a binge, Gloria wakes up to learn a horrible giant monster has, kaiju-movie style, attacked the pacific rim capital of Seoul.
Gloria eventually learns that the appearances and disappearances of the kaiju thousands of miles away are inexorably tied to her and her issues with Tim and Oscar, and what unfolds is a strange, and strangely hilarious, discussion of nominally functional post-collegiate alcoholism, modern relationships, gaslighting, and abuse. Despite courting this darkness, it remains sincere and funny and, sitting in the audience, I never felt tricked or harangued. The messaging here is perfectly, gently rationed.

While the movie is centered around Gloria and her story, special mention goes out to Jason Sudekis, whose strange, contained performance as a simmering small town barkeep forms the weird, sticky id of the movie – this breakout role demonstrates a range that hints years of playing comedic good guys may have been selling the veteran character actor short. Tim Blake Nelson and Austin Stowell also deliver subtle, but key performances as his long time drinking buddies.

Fundamentally, when you add a layer of abstraction and absurdity, it brings distance, and distance can allow clarity of commentary. The impossibility at the core of this movie is surrealism as insulation, allowing the examination of its subtexts without imparting a leaden feel. If pressed to find fault with it, it might not be for all audiences – if you’ve never gone through the mundane version of the events depicted, if there’s never been an Oscar or Gloria in your circle, you might have a slightly harder time accessing it, but it’s worth the challenge.

Never failing to be engaging or thought provoking, Colossal is masterful, and may be remembered as the day Nacho Vigilando stomped his way onto the A list.


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