A reviewer can go years without encountering a genuinely original, one-of-a-kind film. I figured The Red Turtle would have to hold me for the foreseeable future when it came to magically imaginative cinematic experiences. The experience included a personal message of thanks from Oscar-winning Dutch director Michael Dudok de Wit; a reviewer can go a lifetime without being on the receiving end of a gesture like that.
But I was mistaken. While different from Turtle in virtually every conceivable respect, Colossal possesses one-of-a-kindness in spades. The work of Spanish writer-director Nacho Vigalondo (Timecrimes), it's totally crazy, completely unpredictable, unclassifiable and more than a tad touching — which is unusual for a movie featuring a skyscraper-dwarfing monster. When was the last time you developed an emotional connection to Godzilla?
Anne Hathaway stars as Gloria, a New Yorker whose nightlife has begun to take a toll on her days. As the movie opens, she's been out until the wee hours drinking away the pain of getting sacked. Her boyfriend (Dan Stevens) has lost his patience with her partying and packed her bags. Faster than you can say Rachel Getting Married (Gloria could be Hathaway's character in that film a few hundred hangovers later), she's back in her hometown, licking her wounds and looking for work.
She finds it, ironically, in a bar owned by an old school chum. Jason Sudeikis costars as Oscar, a seemingly harmless pickup-driving, salt-of-the-earth type. At least in Act One. This is a movie that changes genres the way most movies change settings, so almost nothing is as it initially appears.
One minute it's a laid-back indie sporting a quirky, Juno-esque soundtrack. The next, it's a sci-fi thriller with screaming masses of humanity fleeing the unthinkable down the streets of Seoul. In the course of 110 minutes, Colossal touches a half dozen other bases, and the most amazing part is how seamlessly it all unfolds.
OK, the monster. This isn't a monster movie, not even a distant cousin of Cloverfield or Pacific Rim. So what's a monster doing in the middle of it? Critical opinion is split. One camp insists it's a projection of Gloria's demons. The other accepts the monster at face value: "Hey, there's this giant kaiju terrorizing South Korea. Deal with it. That doesn't mean people don't still look for love, abuse intoxicants and spend too much time on their devices." I'm with the latter.
The fabulous thing about Vigalondo's approach is that it's clear the writer-director couldn't care less. He's come to have fun and wreak havoc. The premise is genius: Gloria discovers that the monster mimics her every movement half a world away. She raises her hand; it raises its hand. She dances; it dances.
The first few times this happens, you get a feeling you hardly ever get at the cineplex — undiluted wonder. The only question is: Can the filmmaker sustain it? Can he carry the narrative ball into the end zone without stumbling, cheating or in some way selling the viewer short?
Movie critic law prevents me from saying more than that Vigalondo not only delivers but makes it look easy, which it isn't. He gets invaluable assistance from his cast, who do sublimely nuanced work. Hathaway has never been better, and Sudeikis reveals heretofore untapped depths. From its first frame to its last, Colossal is nothing less than a big-screen blast. When was the last time a movie with a giant city-crunching reptile blew your mind while touching your heart?