Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Reserved Seating: Colossal

by Rob DiCristino and Adam Riske
The review duo that are giant monsters literally and figuratively.

Adam: Welcome to Reserved Seating. I’m Adam Riske.

Rob: And I’m Rob DiCristino.

Adam: This week, we’re reviewing the new film Colossal from writer-director Nacho Vigalondo (Timecrimes, Open Windows) starring Anne Hathaway and Jason Sudeikis as childhood friends who reunite after Hathaway’s Gloria is kicked out of her apartment by her stuffy boyfriend (Dan Stevens) and moves back to her hometown. Sudeikis plays Oscar, a local who has grown up to take over his dad’s bar. After a few hangouts, Gloria and Oscar discover that her drinking leaves a destructive wake. In the meantime (in Seoul, South Korea), a giant Kaiju begins appearing briefly every morning stirring up trouble. Complications ensue both at home and abroad.

In this clip, Gloria and Oscar catch up after being away from each other for many years.

The scene is nicely written and would be interesting if it simply played out like a quirky indie comedy, but one of Colossal’s many joys is that it evolves and constantly surprises throughout its runtime. It’s the type of movie where I want to share less and allow our readers to discover the movie for themselves. I’ll just say right away it’s my second favorite movie of 2017 so far. I loved it.

Rob: It’s definitely the kind of film you want to go into knowing as little as possible (the trailer gives you the general gist while withholding some really interesting developments), and something that I’m sure will benefit from repeat viewings. I’ll say right now that Jason Sudeikis (playing both to type and against it) gives easily my favorite performance of the year so far, and that some murky transitional elements in the middle of the film are all that prevent me from really loving it. Colossal becomes a very different film in its second hour than it was in its first, and I think it stumbles a bit in crossing the hurdle from one to the other. Once it gets there, though, it’s really something special.

Adam: There’s a centerpiece scene in the movie that really blew me away. I’m in total agreement with you that Jason Sudeikis gives the best performance I’ve seen this year. He’s becoming a really interesting actor between his work here and in Sleeping with Other People from a couple of years ago. Back in his Horrible Bosses days, I thought he was insufferable and smug, but then he seemed to start playing characters in an honest way instead of riding on a Chevy Chase-like pseudo cool. Really good, too, is Anne Hathaway, who is an actress I’ve always liked and had to defend for a while, I think, unnecessarily. I enjoyed the way she played Gloria, who is messed up and has a drinking problem but is still not defined exclusively by those shortcomings. I went into Colossal almost thinking this was going to be a vanity project for the actress, with the subtext being that she’s really not that bad but everyone acts like she’s a monster in real life and destructive no matter what she does. Colossal is about so much more and that was a very pleasant development. I think the movie is most interesting in what it says about misogyny and parenting despite neither of the two leads having children in the film.
Rob: I read a bunch of articles this week praising Hathaway’s performance in Colossal and declaring that it was time to start taking her seriously again. Did she lose our collective respect at some point? Where was I? She’s a really good actress! That opening scene where she walks into the apartment and starts explaining where she was all night to the Beauty and the Beast guy while he silently fumes was one of the best things I’ve seen in a long time. Sudeikis, though. Good grief. I know this person. I’ve met this person and dealt with this person. Without spoiling too much, I thought it was an amazing commentary on both the “friend zone guy” character and the emotionally abusive addict without compromising either one of them for easy plot shortcuts.

Brief aside: I’m a huge fan of the Harmontown podcast, and Jason Sudeikis has been on a number of times talking to Dan Harmon about his past struggles with addiction. I can’t help but think that those experiences might have been what drew him to this role and what make him so goddamn compelling.

Adam: Hathaway was taking hits for years that she’s “mannered” or “inauthentic,” like a bratty theater kid. It was more in her personal life and in interviews than in her performances. I think it snowballed when she won her Oscar and started her speech with “It came true” and then Jennifer Lawrence won hers and (at the time) she was this “regular girl” who didn’t seem to need the Oscar as bad. I don’t love everything she does on and off screen, but Anne Hathaway always just struck me as a grown woman and a professional actor and that’s why she doesn’t act like a lovable goofball. Part of the reason I think she was pigeonholed into being holier than thou is because she started out as a Disney Princess and people made a preconception about her.

I’m going to tip-toe around the Sudeikis character because his progression is so integral to the parts of the movie that are not in the marketing. That being said, yes, I know these guys too. And even worse, I think every guy (at some point) has been a shade of this guy whether in our actions or only in our heads. I’m guilty of it even in this movie. There’s a scene early on where Gloria makes a pass at a supporting character and then when he makes a move she rebuffs him. My immediate impulse was not to think “Well, that’s a woman’s choice” but rather to empathize with the guy because I felt he was receiving mixed signals and put in a position to be embarrassed. It’s very clever how they include this moment in the movie because it triggers me, as a male viewer, into considering my behavior around women and how careful everyone needs to be as a best route to respect one another.

Rob: It’s a great point, and I absolutely agree. The key is that no one thinks they’re that person. No one (I hope) thinks they’re actively abusing or gaslighting friends or partners, but it does happen. And that might be a good time for us to move into the “sci-fi” elements at play in Colossal. This is, after all, a film about a giant beast terrorizing Seoul.
Adam: This is my favorite Kaiju movie in a long time. Until the Godzilla (2014) podcast I thought I was a much bigger fan of the genre than I actually was. Around the time I saw Kong: Skull Island, I realized that I don’t even know anymore what I want out of these giant monster movies. Colossal is a lite-monster movie, but it had so much more impact than its peers in the genre because every single step and punch and action has emotional and long-term consequences. It’s a really brilliant reinvention of the genre. I think monster fans will take a lot away from the movie because it uses something they love (giant monsters) and personalizes it in a way that just about anyone can identify with.

Rob: There’s the obvious metaphor of Hathaway’s drunken antics negatively affecting the lives of tons of people, but this movie takes it to a much more interesting place. I loved the idea of the victims being halfway around the world and not knowing she was the one causing their pain. Direct consequences and punishments are simple; they can be pushed against and defied. We can justify and obfuscate and blame others when our sins are brought into the light. But her punishments are more internal, forcing her to really reflect on who she is and what she’s doing with her life. And like you said, she’s never just an addict. She’s intelligent and empathetic and complicated, and the movie takes time to show us each of those shades. Her particular arc requires her to come to terms with those shades and find a way to synthesize her faults with her strengths in order to (and again, avoiding spoilers) find the best outcome.

Adam: There’s one aspect I didn’t love about Colossal and it’s just a supporting performance, so that’s not a deal breaker. I thought Dan Stevens was like doing a weird impression of a Cary Elwes performance or something. It distracted me a little. I also wanted more Tim Blake Nelson, who I think is really good in another supporting role but is jettisoned before the climax when I think a little more material could have made his character less of a hanging chad. I’m voting a big Mark Ahn for Colossal and urge our readers to check it out. The theater I saw it in was pretty empty, so I want people to rally around this one before it’s bounced out of theaters and has to hope it finds a second life in the home market.

Rob: Yeah, there were maybe five people in my theater. Agreed on Dan Stevens, who suffered a bit by having to play the least human character in the film. He’s so clearly a selfish dickbag and it’s a shame to see the film resort to such shallow characterization. That said, I’m also Mark Ahning Colossal. I don’t think it’s perfect, but it’s got such a big heart and is so thought-provoking that I can’t, in good conscience, advise anyone not to see it.

Adam: Join us next week when we’re back talking about one of the new releases not named The Lost City of Z. Until next time…

Rob: These seats are reserved.


  1. I loved this movie. I thought Jason Sudeikis was brilliant- partially because of how much of myself I saw in him. It's wonderful how this movie plays with the male perspective. Great piece, guys!

  2. This isn't showing anywhere in a reasonable distance from me so it could be a while before I see it and I don't want to read this before then. I'm sure you guys are hilarious and insightful here though and should be spun off into your own series of youtube videos (I'm sure Rob doesn't mind constant travel) until you guys can barely stand each other and have to arrive on set separately two minutes before filming starts.

  3. My partner and I saw this about an hour ago, and my early reaction is that it's my favourite movie so far this year. I agree that Jason Sudeikis is amazing, and I haven't loved Anne Hathaway this much since Rachel's Getting Married. I do also kinda agree about Dan Stevens, but it certainly never pulled me out of the movie. I think this movie had really interesting things to say about a lot of different things (to almost-quote JB). I can't wait to watch this one again, and see if it really beats Get Out for me.