I want to take a moment to apologize to Anne Hathaway. Ms. Hathaway, as you’ve grown from precocious princess (The Princess Diaries) and embattled intern (The Devil Wears Prada) to destitute prostitute (Les Misérables) and back again to Disney royalty (Alice Through the Looking Glass), I’ve sometimes judged you unfairly, often attributing your characters’ calculated naiveté to you as an actor, forgetting that perhaps you’re only playing the slim, often stereotypical female roles you’ve been granted. I even mistakenly took your boisterous, affecting turn as a toxic sister in Rachel Getting Married for a fluke. (You know how the broken clock is right twice a day?) But I want to tell you something you likely already know: It was me; it was never you. Because in Nacho Vigalondo’s touching sci-fi dramedy Colossal, Anne Hathaway, you are magnetic — and more importantly, you are flawed and thoroughly human.
Gloria (Hathaway) is an out-of-work blogger in New York who took more than a few hits from online trolls and copes by drinking blackout amounts of alcohol and partying with “friends” she doesn’t even really know or care about. It pushes her live-in boyfriend, Tim (Dan Stevens), to his edge, and she’s kicked to the curb, returning to her family’s empty upstate home. Gloria drags over an air mattress (that will continually deflate to comic effect throughout the entire narrative) from a corner store and runs into an old classmate named Oscar (Jason Sudeikis). He’s a nice guy who gives Gloria a job at his bar and then, slowly, more and more furniture she didn’t ask for.
Meanwhile, suddenly every news outlet in the world is reporting on a Godzilla-like creature that’s surfaced in South Korea, destroying parts of Seoul for just one minute and disappearing again. A particular mannerism of the creature tips Gloria off that she’s somehow connected to it. At first this connection comes off as a sugary metaphor about the monster inside alcoholics. But this is not that movie.
At every turn, Vigalondo barrels toward a worn movie cliché and then completely circumvents it. A film that initially seems to portray its female protagonist as a semi-spoiled hot mess is actually playing its audience. I kept thinking things like, “Oscar seems nice, so I bet she’ll end up with him and get sober,” or “Wow, that’s super cold that she would hit on that other cute guy while Oscar is right there, because Oscar did so many nice things for her.” That’s the beauty of Colossal. It’s not about alcoholics or writers or small-town life, or even those behemoth monsters stomping on Korea: It’s about all the “nice guys” in the world who expect women to reward them with sex and love for being decent human beings, and who act out in terrible, destructive ways when they’re not given their cookies.
Hathaway is hilarious yet thoughtful, playing weak yet determined. When Oscar blackmails Gloria into remaining in his indentured servitude by threatening to destroy South Korea through this strange monster, those big brown eyes of hers are irresistibly sympathetic. Ask any woman you know, and she’ll tell you she’s seen those same eyes staring back at her in the mirror at least once in her life. It’s the look of someone who has tried and tried but now realizes that no matter how much effort she puts into attaining independence, she’s always at the whims of emotionally abusive men.
As a woman living in this fucked-up alt-right world, I have not felt this kind of catharsis while watching a film in a long time. And in some ways, it’s possible to feel that Hathaway is having a catharsis of her own, fighting back against the bullies who’ve tried to control how she can sound or what’s acceptable for her to say when she’s accepting a tremendous award. For any and all who’ve discredited her — including myself — Hathaway gives a Godzilla-sized middle finger to the haters in Colossal.