Gloria and Oscar watch the news in Colossal

“Have you ever noticed how it just keeps destroying everything in its path but it never looks down?”

This film has been featured on an episode of my podcast about movies and mental health, Peculiar Picture Show!

Mark Twain once said, “If you send a damned fool to St. Louis, and you don’t tell them he’s a damned fool, they’ll never find out.” Now, Mark Twain clearly had something against St. Louis, but that’s not my point. My point is that if you’re ignorant about something and you live in a place where nobody is going to point that out to you, you’re likely to remain ignorant about that your entire life. I lived in small-town Florida for most of my adolescent and young adult life, and let me tell you: in those towns, it is very hard to come by people who will challenge you to think outside of the microcosm of small towns in America.

Colossal, written and directed by Nacho Vigalondo (Timecrimes, Extraterrestrial) and starring Anne Hathaway and Jason Sudeikis, is a high-concept film with a lot to say about life in a small town. It’s very metaphorical, but it’s hard to pin down exactly what it’s trying to say. That’s not a bad thing, because it has a lot to say and it will probably speak differently to different people. It’s kind of a dark comedy, kind of a story of redemption, and kind of a giant monster movie (in a literal sense). It got some bad reviews from people who likely missed the points it was trying to make and saw it as an ill-conceived monster movie, but there’s a lot here for people who are willing to dig into the film a bit more.

The story follows Gloria, an unemployed alcoholic living in a big city, as her boyfriend (whom she lives with) gets sick of her substance abuse and kicks her out of his apartment. Distraught, she moves back to her small hometown to try to pull her life back together. She immediately connects with Oscar, and old friend from school who owns a local bar. As Gloria continues to get drunk and mess things up, a giant monster appears in Seoul, South Korea and destroys a few things in its path before fading away. The monster keeps reappearing and Gloria discovers that she is tied to the monster, somehow controlling its actions without even realizing it. Gloria soon has to come to grips with her part in destroying part of a city on the other side of the world.

My life is just as amazing as yours now, so fuck you!

As I mentioned, Colossal is a metaphor (and, honestly, without viewing it as a metaphor, it’s hard to appreciate), but it’s really amazing how much it conveys. At first, I thought it was going to be a metaphor about alcoholism and recovery, but that’s only a small part of it. I saw it primarily covering two things: abuse and American politics, all relating to small towns. Anyone who’s survived a long-term abusive relationship will recognize many of the behaviors displayed by Oscar, but also insightful were the ways Oscar’s male friends quietly sat back and let it happen, touching on the culture of toxic masculinity as well. And the idea that someone in a small American town controls a giant monster that can hurt people on the other side of the world is a great metaphor for some of the apathy in modern American politics. This isn’t just a story about discovering that you are the monster—it poses the question of what you do once you do realize it. There are a lot of great things to ponder here, especially for Americans, but just about anyone will be able to glean something from this.

Gloria, looking disheveled, smiles and waves
Anne Hathaway applies her normal awkward charm to an alcoholic with some serious issues. I was cheering for Gloria, but I don’t know that many viewers will want to look up to her.

The film itself is not so high-concept that it’s impossible to follow or attach to. It’s light and funny in many places, and seeing Gloria grow throughout the movie is empowering. If you go into it knowing that it’s a metaphor for abuse and politics, I don’t think you’ll have trouble seeing what it has to say about those things. That said, this does still work as a fantastic and somewhat absurd story about a woman struggling to get better, albeit not as brilliantly. This is definitely not one of those films that’s brilliant but not entertaining—I had fun watching it and wouldn’t hesitate to watch it again.

Colossal is brilliant as a metaphor and entertaining to boot. It’s definitely not for everybody, and it’s unfortunate that the real message here will fly over the head of many viewers. But for those willing to open their minds and think a bit about what the film is trying to convey, they’ll be rewarded with a thought-provoking film that’s ultimately about empathy, empowerment, and redemption.

Runtime: 1:49
Director: Nacho Vigalondo
Year: 2016
Genres: comedy, drama, indie
Rating: R

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