The second part of this review analyzes plot twists, thematic elements and messages in detail; major spoilers therefore abound. This section will be clearly marked up front.
Colossal, by writer-director Nacho Vigalondo, is a fascinating and impressively complex film that I highly recommend seeing, if you haven’t already.
That said, Colossal’s marketing and trailers mislead audiences a certain amount. For a rom-com / monster-movie mashup it is rather low on the com, and nil on the rom. This is misleading because rom-com as a genre suggests that content warnings (for topics like abuse or rape) are not needed, and Colossal is a dark comedy at best, deserving at least some heads up about its contents being a great deal less lighthearted than implied.
The movie is intricate and weaves a variety of themes effectively, some of which obviously a great deal more on the nose than others. Anne Hathaway plays “out of control” and out-of-work partier Gloria, who gets kicked out of her boyfriend’s apartment after failing one too many times to clean up her act. After this externally-forced bout of self-awareness shakes her out of her ongoing bender, she moves back to her hometown of Mainland and gets a job as a waitress at her childhood friend Oscar’s bar. Oscar, whose portrayal by Jason Sudeikis reaffirms that comedy actors are great at drama, has lived in Mainland all his life and considers Gloria’s return as the first interesting thing the town has seen in years.
Oh, and then there’s a giant monster wreaking havoc in Seoul. Did we mention the monster?
The film’s main trailer ends with Oscar saying to some restaurant patrons that “she’s the monster”, referring to Gloria. This is not a plot twist in any way; in fact, the only hint that this movie is much darker than a rom-com is because the trailers give this plot detail away.
For a continued spoiler-free review and examination of Colossal, I recommend watching What The Flick’s review on YouTube. I want to dive deeper into the themes and plot twists and that requires spoiler-heavy content, so:
🚨 SPOILERS BELOW 🚨
The obvious big-picture metaphor is the very on-the-nose “she’s the monster” that is the mashup itself. Hathaway’s character Gloria starts off as a monster of a person, but upon finding out she is, in fact, the monster, she starts to reflect on herself much more honestly and sincerely. She begins taking real steps to address the very thing contributing to her being a monster: her addiction to alcohol and general irresponsibleness.
Conversely, we meet two men who show themselves, over the course of the movie, to be monsters of their own while not being the monster at all. Gloria’s ex-boyfriend Tim and her childhood friend-turned-bar owner Oscar both reveal a darker, abusive side to themselves while playing a shadow game with one another over who gets to control Gloria for their own desires or purposes.
Meanwhile, hometown Mainland isn’t merely an Americana backdrop with another on-the-nose metaphor as its name, but also quietly represents the theme of rural-versus-urban divide that is increasingly at the forefront in American and global politics. Oscar revels in Gloria’s failure to make it in the big city, his resentment having quietly festered inside him for decades while feeling trapped in his environment. But, like millions of Americans, Oscar is held back from joining the excitement of city life by his own inner demons—his unwillingness to change himself and evolve, and make the kind of sacrifices that demand it—more so than any real barriers to entry. In his case it leads to resentment because he feels entitled to a better and more interesting life. His entitlement dates back to their childhood days, as is revealed in the flashback of him destroying Gloria’s paper model out of jealousy.
The film hints here and there that gender (male entitlement competing with a woman’s superior skills) plays a role, but never explicitly addresses it head on. Rather, it focuses on the expected motivation — that Oscar loves Gloria and is jealous of her being with other men — and flips it on its head: his motivation isn’t rooted in any desire for her, but rather in his entitlement and subsequent resentment.
Sudeikis plays his character’s (nonetheless white and male) entitlement with verve, delighting in a role that is both terrifying and affable, often simultaneously so. Where Jessica Jones’s Killgrave is an abusive psycho with a hint of charm, Colossal’s Oscar has it in spades—but only when he wants it. There is an element of Bipolar Disorder to Oscar, visible when he switches, in the blink of an eye, from being everyone’s charming buddy to a seriously terrifying psycho.
The film’s conclusion brings Gloria and Oscar to a face-off where both have one last decision to make: change their ways for good, or stick to their guns? Any hint of a cuddly Sudeikis romance partner finale is thrown out, literally, leaving the only romantic element in the entire film to be one casual hookup that happens almost by accident.
In the end, Oscar chooses to forgo having an arc of personal development, and sticks to being the controlling and abusive asshole he truly is. Conversely, Gloria chooses a life in which toxic behaviors and people have no place, and cuts Oscar out of hers. Suggesting, perhaps, that the true monster is not ourselves, but rather the decision we make not to acknowledge and address our own flaws.