Colossal (Nacho Vigalondo, 2017)
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. A mid-thirties New Yorker hits rock bottom when her alcoholism leads to being fired from her job as a writer and her boyfriend breaks up with her throwing her out on the street. With nowhere else to go, she returns to her hometown in small town wherever. While there an old (male) friend instantly recognizes her and does everything in his power to make sure she feels welcomed home with open arms. Thankfully, Colossal is aware of the tiredness of this formula and subverts the problematic tropes inherent in these premises, creative use of a giant monster attacking Seoul doesn’t hurt any either.
Anne Hathaway plays Gloria, who is told by her at the time boyfriend Tim (Dan Stevens) that because of her constant drinking and partying, he has packed her belongings for her and she needs to leave. Her unnamed New York party friends flood the apartment after Tim leaves, but the camera focuses on Gloria, oblivious to the world around her as the consequences of her predicament set in.
Cut to a small town in upstate New York where Gloria lets herself into her abandoned childhood home, which miraculously still has the key hidden under a welcome mat despite being devoid of all furniture. Lost in the reality that she now occupies, Gloria succumbs to exhaustion crashing on the floor, given no more comfortable option.
The next day, while walking home from the local store and lugging an air mattress over her back, an old childhood acquaintance, Oscar (Jason Sudeikis) recognizes her while driving by and reaches out a hand in friendship. Without asking her what or where she would like to reconnect, he takes her to the bar he inherited from his father. After a night of reconnecting with Oscar, meeting his friends, and excessive libations, Gloria drags her still intoxicated body and yet undelivered air mattress home as the rest of the world begins their day, punctuated by the march of young children to elementary school.
Hours later, Gloria is awoken from her slumber on the newly opened, though still uninflated, air mattress by the news that Seoul has been attacked by a giant monster. Shocked, Gloria falls into old habits as she becomes accustomed to her new world. Drinking to the point of not remembering how the evening ends fill in the pillars of her days while she struggles to cope with the natural disaster that the world at large is dealing. This balance becomes stressed when she discovers that the monster may have some connection to her.
Anne Hathaway’s performance as Gloria is glorious (ha). A less sensitive portrayal would only consider the part of her that was a mess, disregarding the woman underneath. While Hathaway’s Gloria admits that she has a drinking problem and attempts to curb it, she doesn’t give in to pressure to decry her entire life forfeit. Like a real person, she identifies a part of her she would like to improve and executes on that. Her setbacks and struggles are given the respect of a human inevitability. Even excluding the creature feature side-plot, this is the decision that saves Colossal from falling into the well-trodden trap that frequently plagues the indie-homecoming genre.
Another pleasant revelation of the film was its feminist forward message. Despite failing the Bechdel test, Colossal identifies many of the least feminist clichés that plague indie-homecoming films and calls them out. The childhood friend’s adoration and crush after a 20-year hiatus is not endearing, but creepy. Infantilizing a woman by assigning a childhood crush to her as an adult assumes that women are stagnant in development. In contrast, men are allowed to grow into their ideal form at which point they supposedly deserve the emotional reciprocation from the preserved girl. Gloria agrees to none of this misogyny and spurs Oscar’s advances/ air of entitlement towards her.
The calling out of male entitlement is a theme that Colossal returns to on multiple occasions. Oscar is the most egregious offender amplifying the misogyny of the old-flame’s entitlement to the lost woman for the purpose of satire. His insistence is that everything revolves around him. He, unsurprisingly though unjustly, reacts as if Gloria sleeping with his friend and not him is a personal attack; assuming that he was the one entitled to that experience. He even goes so far as to insert himself into Gloria’s exploration of the connections between her and the creature terrorizing Seoul, monopolizing the attention and ruling with his toxic perceptions.
Oscar is not alone in the world of toxic masculinity. The ex-boyfriend Tim makes an appearance after his initial desertion, and he assumes that his remorse and former title entitle him to Gloria’s forgiveness and love. In a stand out moment for Hathaway, Tim exclaims that she “owes him an explanation.” A sentiment which sets off my inner feminist alarms but unfortunately feel at place in a film such as this. Thankfully, Colossal subverts these expectations as Gloria calls him out on his egotistical views of what he is owed. She is an unattached woman fending for herself and he is entitled to absolutely nothing.
This feminist reading allows for a fresh take on a tried-and-true staple of independent film. Amplified by the fun of a creature feature, and prowess that Anne Hathaway brings to everything that she touches, Colossal provides a fun movie going experience without sacrificing any feminist morals.