Movie Talk: ‘Colossal’

In our latest Movie Talk, we discuss Nacho Vigalondo’s sci-fi black comedy Colossal, in which Anne Hathaway plays Gloria, an unemployed writer who moves back to her small hometown in an attempt to make a fresh start. There, she reconnects with childhood friend Oscar (Jason Sudeikis), who helps set Gloria up with furniture for her empty house, and gives her a job waitressing at the bar he owns.

Shocked to learn there is a monster currently devastating the city of Seoul, Gloria gradually realises it has a supernatural connection to the playground she stumbles through each morning after all-night boozing sessions with Oscar and his friends Garth and Joel. Could this monster be… a metaphor?

If you haven’t seen Colossal, beware: we discuss plot spoilers!

Mel: In genre terms I really liked Colossal because it begins as one of those Sundancey films about a drunken shambles who moves back home and finds herself through romance with a local hunk, but then it takes a very dark turn that I liked a lot, although some critics found it upsetting and triggering.

Anthony: I found it really interesting the way the film wanted our sympathies to shift but it never really did a whole lot in terms of changing her character. At the start she’s meant to be a screw-up, by the end we’re meant to be like “yeah! They were all wrong about you!” But they weren’t – it’s just that we’re shown that they’re even worse than her.

Mel: I liked that she never changes that much, because part of the power of the film for me was her realising that she can change if she wants to, but the people around her really can’t.

Anthony: I liked that she didn’t change because booze is great.

Mel: What I dislike about films like this is when the change is imposed from outside the character – like when she realises she has to ‘grow up’ or ‘get serious’ or ‘be loveable’. For me this was the HUGE problem with Amy Schumer’s Trainwreck.

Anthony: Yeah, that stuff almost always sucks.

Mel: It annoys me that booze and drinking in general are treated as tropes of failure when really there are so many reasons to drink and not all of them equate to alcoholism.

Anthony: Colossal was quite rigid in that way, though – nobody really changed during it and it went a fair way towards saying one of the characters had always been a massive jerk.

Mel: I mean, Colossal clearly showed that drinking was destructive – in quite a literal metaphor.

Anthony: I think it wanted to be a film where people gradually revealed their true selves, but in her case it never quite managed it. Or maybe it did and her behaviour early in the film was meant to be out of character for reasons that were never spelt out.

Mel: But you know how at the start of the film our sympathies are partly with Dan Stevens’ character Tim, who is trying to be an understanding boyfriend but Gloria refuses to meet him halfway? But when we meet him again halfway through the film he seems very uptight and priggish.

Anthony: Yes, that’s what I mean.

Mel: I think it would be a simplistic reading to say that she was a drunk because of the residual trauma of guys like Oscar stomping on her hopes and dreams.

Anthony: The film repositions the idea of “help” – initially Oscar’s wanting to change her is seen as helpful, then later on it’s shown to reveal him as yet another jerk.

Melissa: I liked what the film did with the metaphors of smallness and largeness: the idea of feeling so small and insignificant, versus feeling huge and powerful. Oscar is ‘a small guy’.

Anthony: Those monsters were clearly meant to be revealing of their true natures.

Mel: She was a dinosaur and he was a robot?

Anthony: She was initially destructive yet once she realised what she was doing she backed right down. He on the other hand, once he realised he had power, he was happy to use it to mess up people’s lives. She was a good person at heart – he was not.

Mel: I think the mediatised nature of the event played into this too – he was clearly jealous of the way that she was portrayed as the hero and he was the villain, so he decided to lean in hard in order to get his share of the coverage. A villain is defined by having something to ruin or destroy – hence they are an ‘antagonist’. So he couldn’t just walk away like she did.

Anthony: I thought that was more the typical douchebro attitude. “Why am I the bad guy here?” – said while clearly acting like the bad guy.

Mel: I thought those scenes were so effective where you saw them fighting in the playground and you heard the cheers from the surrounding houses as people watched on live TV.

Anthony: Yes, and it also underlined the simultaneous nature of their fights – they were happening in real time, even though the film obviously couldn’t show them/their monster forms in the same place and time.

Mel: I came close to feeling sorry for him, when you see his hoarder house and realise how boxed in he is by life, feeling small and trapped.

Anthony: But the film then says he was always a small and nasty guy.

Mel: But she gives him the opportunity to become better and he refuses it. I thought that scene at the end was so powerful where she in her giant form picks up his tiny form in almost a tender way, like King Kong picks up Fay Wray, and then he screams, “YOU FUCKING BITCH!” and she just THROWS HIM AWAY, who knows where he lands. Who cares?

Anthony: It did feel in parts like a film where the film got away from the script a little – like in the script he was a bit more 2D than he turned out to be in the film once the set design and performances were added to the story.

Mel: I thought Sudeikis was an interesting choice because he’s so often cast as that funny, all-American guy you can sink a beer with, and then he plays against type.

Anthony: Yeah, good casting helped it a lot.

Mel: Hathaway was playing firmly to type; we saw her in a similar shambles role in Rachel Getting Married.

Anthony: Hathaway helped plenty too – she’s got enough charm that she could carry the character over that first half-hour where she could have seemed like a real sneeze, and then she can do that whole “oops, gone too far, I’m really a nice guy” turn well. I mean, someone like Rebel Wilson could have done the first part but not the second.

Mel: Don’t even speak to me of Rebel Wilson, whose recent court case is ruining her career as not even her performances can. I don’t think the story of the film was really her ‘journey’ from being a lost unemployed drunk to being a productive, loveable member of society – it was really her learning to trust her own instincts and not allow herself to be pushed around by anyone, for any reason.

Anthony: Yeah, I’d agree with that. But oddly, I don’t think the film really made the case for that being a positive thing – she was still kind of a jerk, only now she’s a jerk who won’t take shit from anyone!

Mel: I think it was interesting how Gloria was still a jerk at the end – the film is refusing the usual redemption angle. Films train us that a character has to be ‘likeable’ for them to be interesting or entertaining to watch – I’m thinking also about how everyone hated the TV series Girlboss because the main character is a bitch. I haven’t seen Fleabag but I have vague ideas that it might be similar?

What do you think of the domestic violence/gaslighting angle? The way that Oscar starts nice but then turns mean and makes out like it’s her fault. You know how he sets her up with furniture, with a job, is nice to her, et cetera – he’s doing that because he senses she’s at a low ebb and will be vulnerable to his constant negging. And he gets super mean when she chooses to fuck Joel, his younger friend, and not him.

Anthony: Yeah, the way he was set up as a dude who thought she was out of his league until now was well done. That stuff with Joel was well handled I thought, as that kind of thing is kind of common amongst dudes and it’s got a bit to do with “good one, you ruined our bro-group”. It wasn’t just that he was pissed off that she’d chosen someone else (though obviously that was a big part of it) – it’s also that because she’s slept with one of them now the group is all out of balance and they can no longer just hang out in a non-sexual way.

Mel: Also, perhaps he thought that as the ‘leader’ of the group, he had first dibs on her?

Anthony: Obviously he wanted to sleep with her but in his mind that would be okay as he’s the leader of the group – he’d be the guy with a girlfriend and a couple of single buddies. Next worst thing is to just have her as a girl in the non-sexual gang. Worst is for her to sleep with someone else.

Mel: Yes, and he never saw her as a person – only as an accessory to himself. That’s why even as a child he wanted to destroy her work because he couldn’t stand that it made him feel bad about his own.

Anthony: By sleeping with someone else, she demoted him inside his own group.

Mel: I’m currently watching and reading The Magicians, which has a similar sooky protagonist who feels resentful that his best female friend won’t get it on with him, and instead chose his best male friend, and he’s feeling like he should be the hero of his life story and not the other two roles: the sidekick or the villain. The fact that he’s a magician comes along and makes him a hero again. But in Colossal, Oscar chooses to be the villain because it makes him feel bigger and more powerful than being the sidekick.

Anthony: I’d agree with that. At that stage of the story he’s either got to lean into being bad or just fade away – there’s no other role left for him in her life. Unless he wants to live in that most horrible dimension of all: the FRIENDZONE.

Mel: But again, this isn’t a Manic Pixie Dream Girl film in which her role in the story is to get him out of his rut. He’s mad that a female character has her own agency, and isn’t just there to actualise him.

Anthony: I think he more wants her to join him in his rut. He’s generally content in his shitty life, he just wants her to be crappy like him.

Mel: Yes, he wants to drag her down to his smallness because he senses that she’s feeling small herself.

Anthony: Which she kind of is and he sees that, which is why he’s so pissed off when she rejects him. She doesn’t have a good reason not to be with him in his mind – he’s a failure, she’s a failure, let’s get it on.

Mel: Do you think at the end she rejects Tim too, and just goes it alone? We leave her just sort of sitting in that bar in Seoul.

Anthony: Yep, I think she leaves it all behind. She hasn’t improved or become a better person, she’s just like, “well, that was a bad idea.”

Mel: Maybe she moves to Seoul?

Anthony: I’m not sure she could afford to fly home. Colossal II: Bar Hooker. “This is my life now!!”

Mel: I take a more hopeful message from it than you do – I see that from now on she won’t let people push her around and tell her she’s shit.

Anthony: I think that would be a hopeful message if she hadn’t been acting like a shit at the start of the film. But I guess the idea is that through being a giant monster she’s come to realise that her actions can harm other people whether she means them to or not. And so in a way she has become more self-aware and therefore perhaps a better person.

Mel: Yes, she’s become less solipsistic.

Anthony: Until she has that next drink.

Mel: I also think it’s important that she’s still drinking at the end because alcohol maybe wasn’t her problem.

Anthony: Yes, it wasn’t made all that clear but it did seem like her drinking was just regular drinking and not ‘drinking problem’ drinking. Though it’s very hard to tell in movies, as a lot of people think showing any kind of drinking is a problem. Much like any time a character coughs that means they’ll be dead in the next scene.

Mel: Like I said before, it annoys me that in popular culture there are very few ways of thinking about drinking: there’s ‘sophisticated Bond drinking’, there’s ‘youthful excess drinking’, there’s ‘sad alcoholic drinking’, there’s ‘business stress drinking’.

Anthony: I’m pretty sure there’s “middle aged women bonding over a wine” drinking too.

Mel: Anyway, maybe we could do another blog thing on why our characters drink.

Anthony: Yes, save that gold for next time.

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