Indie films, right? When you want to tell a story and you have no budget, that means you’re forced to go personal, and lately it seems like all these “personal” stories follow the same arc. They might throw in little quirks to make them a little different from each other, but I swear, you could build an indie script with a simple Mad Libs template.
Here: I’ll do it for Colossal, the newest film from celebrated Spanish auteur Nacho Vigalondo. The story is about *pulls name from a hat* Gloria (Anne Hathaway), a quirky young socialite who lives in *flips a coin* New York City. She moves back to her hometown to sort her life out after her *throws a dart* alcoholism and *throws another dart* irresponsible partying ways causes her *pulls another name from the hat* boyfriend Tim (Dan Stevens) to break up with her. There, she reconnects with her childhood friend *pulls a third name from the hat* Oscar (Jason Sudeikis), and takes a job at *draws a card* his bar. With the help of *spins a wheel* the psychic connection she has with the hundred-foot kaiju monster terrorizing Seoul, South Korea, Gloria learns *consults the dartboard for a reminder* responsibility and self-respect. See? This shit is all the same.
For real, this is the first film I’ve ever seen from Vigalondo, but I’m aware of the reputation he’s garnered from movies like Timecrimes and Open Windows. I can now confirm, for myself, that I’ve been missing out on someone special.
Here’s what sells Colossal for me: After a brief scene that shows the very first appearance of the giant monster that Gloria will eventually discover that she controls, we jump ahead 25 years to Gloria coming back after what is obviously her thousandth late night out, trying to sweet-talk Tim into forgiving her—which, of course, he’s having none of. The scene that plays out, despite the tension hanging in the air, has this very natural feel to it. I don’t have to tell you that Hathaway and Stevens do tremendous work: Stevens is coming off amazing lead performances in The Guest and Legion while Hathaway has been burning it down since at least Rachel Getting Married. What’s impressive is how, after setting up a giant monster movie with his first scene, Vigalondo scales back and utterly nails the vibe and aesthetic of an indie character study for the rest of the first act and a good chunk of the second. He even sets up a precious metaphor by having Gloria move back into her old house; empty, long vacated, but gradually filling up with furniture as she reconnects with Oscar and his friends. It would work well enough on its own, but like so much of this movie’s groundwork, it’s there to be turned on its head later.
The movie rolls along. News breaks about the giant monster that’s been attacking Seoul. Gloria discovers the connection between herself and the monster—if she walks across a certain area at a certain time, the monster appears in Seoul, making every move that she does while she feels every hit it takes. As Gloria unravels the mystery of this phenomenon, Vigalondo starts challenging your perception of the main characters, which leads to the other big surprise of this movie: Jason Sudeikis. Sudeikis has always been a welcome presence in anything he’s in, but here he turns in a brilliant, layered performance that suggests some real potential and marks him as somebody to keep an eye on going forward. It turns out the Saturday Night Live veteran can be a dangerous performer in the hands of a clever director; I hope another one comes calling for him soon.
For now, though, Vigalondo should be clever enough to hold even the most jaded genre fan over for a while. There’s unfortunately not much that can be said about Colossal because, while the film’s charms will very likely stand up to prior knowledge, there’s simply too much joy in the discovery of the story Vigalondo is telling here. Every time you think you know where it’s going, the tale evolves and goes down an unexpected new road that still somehow feels like the only road it could’ve gone down in retrospect. Yet Vigalondo never colors so far outside the lines that he loses the thread of Gloria’s quest for maturity. To that end, Hathaway and the rest of the cast handles the tonal upheavals Vigalondo throws at them with Michael Jackson-esque smoothness, all the way up to a character’s pitch-perfect reaction to the movie’s innocuous final line.
Colossal is a refreshingly big take on an small indie standard. We’ve got a long way to go before we can start seriously talking about the best films of the year, but when December rolls around, don’t be surprised if you find this on my list.
Colossal is now playing.