When you attend a major film festival, there's a good chance that you won't get the opportunity to see every movie that catches your interest. That's especially true when the festival in question is the Toronto International Film Festival, which historically features the most sprawling slate of films of any major cinematic showcase. At the 2016 festival I managed to see 13 films, including some of the best movies of the year and even Barry Jenkins' Moonlight, the eventual Best Picture winner at the Oscars. But even with a jam-packed weekend of movies, I wasn't able to even scratch the surface of the TIFF lineup, missing out on future Oscar favorites like La La Land and Lion, as well as arthouse genre flicks like Raw and Nacho Vigalando's Colossal. The latter is finally opening wide across the country courtesy of Neon Films, the new distribution chain started by Alamo Drafthouse founder Tim League that is clearly being designed to directly compete with A24.
Colossal is the type of film that thrives in a festival environment. It's weird, unique, and buzzy, a high-concept flick that is best experienced with no expectations and no pre-conceived notions. Going in, I basically knew that Colossal was going to be a wacky journey, something funny and strange that would go in some unexpected and hysterical directions. The result is a film that is decidedly more serious, a monster movie that deals as much with the concept of power and abuse as it does with the funny monster stuff. Vigalando has crafted something distinct and surreal, a singular adventure with themes and concepts that nobody has ever really explored before. And while I generally enjoyed this indescribable bit of insanity, there's something missing here that I can't quite put my finger on. Vigalondo's film is bursting with ideas- but the execution is somewhat lacking.
Life hasn't gone quite as expected for Gloria (Anne Hathaway). After leaving her small hometown for a new start in beautiful New York City, Gloria has slipped into alcoholism and self-destruction, spending each night getting wasted with her friends and sleeping the day away. Her boyfriend, Tim (Dan Stevens), finally gets tired of her behavior and abruptly decides to kick her out of his luxurious apartment. With no money, no job, and no financial security, Gloria returns home. She's immediately befriended by Oscar (Jason Sudeikis), a childhood friend who took over his family bar from his deceased parents. At the bar, Gloria also meets Joel (Austin Stowell) and Garth (Tim Blake Nelson), two friendly faces who welcome her home and also manage to encourage her alcoholic binges. One morning, Gloria wakes up from a blackout to discover some remarkably strange news- a giant monster has attacked Seoul.
Like any normal person, Gloria is absolutely stunned by this news- and even more stunned by the fact that she was knocked out for the entirety of the attack. But Gloria quickly realizes that something weirder is going on here. For starters, each time that the monster attacks Seoul, Gloria is passed out drunk. Soon, she realizes that the monster imitates her movements and physical tics, scratching its head just like Gloria does. By the time she puts it all together, she realizes an astonishing truth- she is permanently linked to the monster due to a freak accident in her hometown as a child. But while Gloria isn't one to abuse her newfound power, a second twist puts her in a very scary scenario, forcing her to put her life together and save the world.
Conceptually, Colossal is genuinely brilliant. It's the kind of idea that could only come from the mind of a mad genius, someone with an uncanny mastery of genre material and conventions. And as the debut of Neon, a slick new indie producer, this film successfully positions the studio as the chief competitor to A24. Before the feature begins, we're treated to five short films about technology that are all really hilarious, oddly standing as the highlight of the whole experience. But there's no denying that as an actual movie, Colossal falls short. It's still an engaging, interesting watch, but it's a film that sadly never gets off the ground, leaving the audience in a state of mild amusement that doesn't last long after the end credits roll.
But for all of the film's flaws, none of the blame can fall on the shoulders of Anne Hathaway and Jason Sudeikis, who deliver terrific performances in this film. Hathaway is endlessly likable as the party girl whose life has gone awry, blending the vulnerability and strength that this character desperately needs. Meanwhile, Sudeikis plays against type to great effect, creating a dynamic character out of this jealous, mild-mannered small town guy. Strong supporting turns are given by Dan Stevens, Austin Stowell, and Tim Blake Nelson, rounding out a small ensemble that is very impressive.
This is Nacho Vigalondo's biggest film yet, which isn't saying much considering it's still a relatively low-key indie. While I'm impressed by his ambition and vision, Vigalondo has difficulty maintaining a consistent tone and a steady sense of momentum. Colossal never manages to decide whether it wants to be an absurdist comedy or a serious monster movie, settling for this weird middle ground where it has funny moments in an unusually dark plot. There are a few laughs, but Colossal is a pitch-black movie about the dynamics of power and the abuse that comes with. It has more in common with The Incredibles and Spider-Man than it does with other monster movies, and despite its B-movie roots, it can never decide if it wants to have fun or give the audience a specific message.
The result is a film that moves in bursts- it's occasionally thrilling, sometimes funny, and often a bit dull. The final act is fairly strong, but Colossal just feels unreasonably frustrating. It's on the cusp of greatness, and yet it just can't decide what it wants to be. Director/screenwriter Nacho Vigalondo should be commended for his originality and unique vision, but in the end, it's in service of a film that exists as a slight miscalculation. Colossal has all the right pieces, but it just can't put it all together.
THE FINAL GRADE: C+ (6.2/10)