Sunday, 21 May 2017

Colossal (2017) (Review)


How much sense does a film have to make for it to be enjoyed? That is a question that plagued me not only during the runtime of Colossal, but even now, hours later, attempting to accumulate my thoughts on the Canadian-Spanish production. Directed by Nacho Vigalondo and starring Anna Hathaway, Jason Sudeikis and Dan Stevens, the picture - an amalgamation of genres and tones - has stumped me, so do bear with me as I attempt to translate my ramblings into something a little more substantial.

Struggling with unemployment and alcoholism, Gloria (Hathaway) is kicked out of the New York City apartment she shares with boyfriend Tim (Stevens) and returns to her Middle American hometown. Reuniting with childhood friend Oscar (Sudeikis) and although a functioning alcoholic, she accepts a part-time to work in Oscar's bar and frequently joins in on late-night drinking. Meanwhile, the destruction of South Korean city Seoul by a monstrous kaiju happens to coincide with Gloria's drunken stumbling back home, through a playground holding more power than meets the eye. Alongside Hathaway (firmly the lead), Sudeikis and Stevens, Austin Stowell and Tim Blake Nelson star in the film that works better in concept than execution.

Originality runs through the veins of Colossal, rendering a unique vision and narrative that can be appreciated for its often unconventional and boundary-challenging take on the monster genre. It is admirable that the film is willing to tackle so many genres and tones head-on but the film falls flat on occasions, symptomised by the film's disorientating tendency to shift genre and tone so frequently. It aims to be and do so much - science-fiction, black comedy, action-thriller and horror elements are attempted - hindered further by a misguided effort to marry the best of both worlds; the wide-appeal of a mainstream hit and the unique characteristics of a smaller-scale indie. With so much bubbling in the cinematic pot, it all ends up diluted with nothing standing out, on a narrative front, to praise; that's not to say any of the elements are bad per se, just inadequately realised and unjustly underdeveloped. Essentially, it never coalesces into the sum of its parts, ultimately delivering promising snapshots of the film(s) it could have been if a more definitive path was chosen. Thus, it seems only right to say the script is Colossal's biggest weakness.

Linking in with that, Colossal struggles to find the right footing to begin with; not only does it play its cards far too early, with act one disappointingly rigid (again, in an attempt to balance the characteristics of an indie release and a mainstream hit) and underwhelming. Thankfully, it relaxes into a second and third act more aplomb, even when in need of tightening the transition between the two acts. Putting the weak execution aside and acknowledging the fact that the concept and narrative is genuinely terrific, the film often towers over its competitors in the marketplace because of its deft and profound approach to theme work. The script, as incoherent and overcooked as this review, to its credit nails the incorporation of metaphors and parallels into the fold, demonstrating an excellent understanding of alcoholism and the path it can lead you down.  Thus, it seems only right to grant the script a pardon, mainly because its attempt to handle and juggle so much simultaneously is at the very least admirable.

Letting the script go for a minute (because of the trouble it is causing me to balance this argument), everything else involved is at the very least solid. Anne Hathaway delivers an excellently balanced and considered performance, perfecting the (often dark) humour well but never forgetting the weight of the matter at hand, providing a suitably complex turn as Gloria. Precise characterisation (important for narrative development) and the thoughtful portrayal of alcoholism encourage a character that the audience can root for, while recognising her flaws; there is certainly more to her than meets the eye and Hathaway pulls it off effectively. Jason Sudeikis, in a more dramatic role than expected, is solid enough as Gloria's seemingly helpful friend and manages to handle the meatier content surprisingly well - that is, until the very final moments demand something more emotive and it all becomes a little cringe-worthy. Still, a decent performance shouldn't come undone by a few weaker spells and Sudeikis is surprisingly sturdy in the role for the majority of the time. Stevens takes on a rather thankless, uninspired role but it is nice to see the talent on screen more. Vigalondo is more than capable in the director's chair, skilfully infusing the more fantastical elements of the pieces into the real-life, crafting a fine balance between the two. While the South Korean-set scenes are the most vibrant and enjoyable of the piece, there is enough technique throughout the rest of the film to be impressed by; he wonderfully uses angles and frames to demonstrate power and weakness of the characters and their respective developments. He is also great in reinforcing the thematic content of the film, detailing the content through some strong technical flourishes.

Why then, with so much good running through the film AND the offer of the originality we all crave in cinema, do I feel so indifferently about the end product? Besides the general unfocused tone and messy classification, Colossal is a little incoherent on the narrative front - we get a very brief explanation to the events of the film, including a few juicy, exposition-driven flashbacks but it is unsatisfying, like a last minute 'oh, we have a hole we need to get out of'. For a film striving to break conventions, it feels formulaic; for a film so inventive elsewhere, any explanation strikes you as surprisingly dull. It is disappointing, even with an impressive ending and profound consideration of the themes at hand, that you cannot fully buy into it. Melodrama sometimes consumes the film and we are left with a problem - one that prevents you from letting the film sweep you up in its own quirky little way.

I've never had more difficulty writing a review, hence my late night questioning. I absolutely admired what the film wanted to do, how it executed its carnage scenes and the profound thematic content  itconsidered but could not otherwise warm to it or accept it in its final packaging. Great performances and direction do most of the heavy-lifting but Colossal attempts far too much to be productive and in juggling so many elements, tones and genres, fails to stick the landing and make it all worthwhile. It feels like a concatenation, rather than a satisfying, wholesome product, striving so desperately to be multiple things that it forgets how to master one of them efficiently.

This is one I'll really need more opinions on, so be sure to drop a comment down below or on my socials!

(6/10)

Summary: Colossal has one giant issue - it tries to be too much. It has some truly fantastic ideas, great performances, sturdy direction and uniqueness but it never coalesces into a satisfying whole, creating a rather frustrating (and ultimately underwhelming) experience.

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