Colossal (2016)

2018 #117
Nacho Vigalondo | 109 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.35:1 | Canada, USA, Spain & South Korea / English & Korean | 15 / R

Colossal

As it begins, you’d be forgiven for thinking Colossal is just another indie rom-com. Anne Hathaway stars as Gloria, an unemployed writer whose boyfriend (Dan Stevens) kicks her out of their New York apartment, forcing her to move back to her Nowheresville hometown. There she reconnects with childhood friend Oscar (Jason Sudeikis) — romance is surely in the air, right? But Colossal has a couple of surprises up its sleeve. One is hard to miss, what with it being on all the posters (and, I presume, in the trailers): concurrent with Gloria’s return home, a giant monster begins to rampage around Seoul, and she comes to realise these two disconnected events are, in fact, connected. Meanwhile, the relationship storyline has a few twists in store too.

Unsurprisingly, given the uniqueness of the concept, the film’s marketing foregrounds the giant monster. But anyone expecting “a giant monster movie” will probably be disappointed, because this isn’t a Godzilla clone. However, anyone open to an indie comedy-drama that uses giant monsters as a giant metaphor (arguably an on-the-nose one, but it’s an effective one also) should find something of interest here. I’m being coy about the facts of that metaphor because I think one of the movie’s biggest strengths is its ability to surprise, and to wrong-foot and unnerve you with those surprises — there are some very uncomfortable scenes, deliberately so. Writer-director Nacho Vigalondo is looking to explore timely themes here, and if you were to be aware of them before viewing I think you’d be looking for signs too early, and that would undermine part of the film’s point, which lies in how events develop.

To put that aside, Colossal’s biggest weakness comes in its sci-fi/fantasy element, where the rules of the situation don’t quite hang together. I’m not saying it needs an explanation for why the ordinary-woman/giant-monster connection happens — it’s the same reason that, say, the time loop in Groundhog Day happens: it just does. The ‘why’ is immaterial to the film’s purpose. But the rules the film establishes for how it works don’t entirely add up. I could go into specifics but, again, that might spoil things. And, ultimately, my issues are no more than niggles — the way things pan out is about getting satisfaction from the storyline, not adhering to the ins and outs of how a fantasy works. That said, I feel like a couple of logic tweaks here and there would’ve made it faultless.

Who's the bigger monster?

Nonetheless, it’s worth letting those complaints slide, because there’s so much to like in spite of them. The performances, for one. Hathaway negotiates Gloria’s interesting, tricky character with aplomb. By ‘tricky’ I really mean that it’s somewhat hard to put your finger on what her arc is exactly, but I think that’s because her evolution is believably fuzzy, just like real life, rather than conforming to a slick “this is the lesson she learned and now she’s better” movie thing. Co-lead Sudeikis has, I’d wager, never been better. I’ve not seen him in much, but enough to buy other people’s opinion that he’s a bit smug, a bit try-hard, a bit… of a dick, really. But all of those qualities work here, where Oscar is a loser trying to seem cool.

With some polishing up, Colossal could’ve been nigh on perfect; though it’d likely still be a cult favourite rather than any major success. Well, it’s probably still good enough for cult status, though, as a caveat, it will most appeal to those viewers who are prepared to accept a bit of a genre/tone mashup. It’s got an indie-funny quality, but then throws the sci-fi stuff in, before unveiling a serious side too; and, although that does get very dark, it’s really effectively managed — indeed, it’s all the better for how the quirkier first part sets it up. Vigalondo has points he wants to make, and his film gets them across. Whatever else, it’s definitely original and unique, and those qualities go a long way.

4 out of 5

Colossal is available on Netflix UK as of this month.

We’re the Millers (2013)

2014 #59
Rawson Marshall Thurber | 105 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.35:1 | USA / English | 15 / R

We're the MillersThe film that technically won Son of Rambow’s Will Poulter the Rising Star Award at the 2014 BAFTAs, We’re the Millers concerns SNL alumnus Jason Sudeikis attempting to pay off a drug debt by recruiting a fake family, with stripper Jennifer Aniston as his wife, homeless Emma Roberts as his daughter, and halfwit naïf Poulter as his son. Together they attempt to smuggle drugs across the border from Mexico. Hilarity ensues.

It’s not, generally speaking, “my kind of film” — that kind being (or “not being”, I guess) “modern mainstream American comedy” — but it’s the third feature from the writer-director of Dodgeball (his second doesn’t seem to merit anybody’s attention), a film I very much liked back-when, so I thought I’d give this a go. I’m glad I did, because while it’s not particularly remarkable, nor likely to redeem that entire genre for me, it is a suitably amusing and entertaining comedy.

The story’s ridiculous, of course, but it’s a comedy so that’s fine. Sudeikis is alright, though for someone apparently dubbed the funniest man in America (I swear I read that somewhere, but can’t find a citation now) this clearly isn’t showing his best work. There are flashes of inspiration though, not least the most perfectly-timed breaking of the fourth wall that you’ll see any time soon. The rest of the primary cast have the best material: Aniston and Roberts play against type (or at least expectation) as the worldly women, while Poulter gets the lion’s share of memorable moments. Well, him and Nick Offerman as the FBI agent they stumble upon. (Between this and The Kings of Summer I’ve ‘discovered’ Offerman this year, and I am amused.)

There is no way to caption this imageReviews for We’re the Millers are resoundingly average across the board, remarkably so (which is why I’m remarking on it). The funny thing is, some critics begrudgingly admit they liked it while giving it half marks, and others are very down on it… while still giving it half marks. It’s the same story for user reviews on Letterboxd, etc. The consensus of more trusted sources is that it’s not a great movie by any stretch, but it’s funny enough and thus achieves its primary aim. And honestly, if a comedy amuses me then I’m happy — that’s its point; its purpose in existence. It doesn’t need to be revolutionary or spectacularly original if it’s still funny. Originality is admirable, but fades if someone does it better later. And if I wanted something deep, I’d be watching something else.

On these points, then, We’re the Millers is a surprising success.

4 out of 5

This review is part of the 100 Films Advent Calendar 2014. Read more here.