Look, I get it. You don’t like Anne Hathaway. Her adorability seems overly calculated to you. She floats through too many films with an air of “Oh wow, I’m so pretty!” She reminds you of that girl from high school who’s not only beautiful, rich, and popular, but also pulls down straight A’s without breaking a sweat and has trouble remembering your name even though you’re in four classes with her. You always hated that girl because everything seems to come so easy to her.
I’ve never been onboard with the Hathaway hate, partly because I know that likeability is overrated (in movies and in life) and that girl from high school never got to me. Mostly, though, it’s because Hathaway does good work. She has brought on-target Texas patrician hauteur to Brokeback Mountain, steadiness that kept her from being overrun in The Devil Wears Prada, and effortless cool as the straight man in Get Smart. Her performance in Rachel Getting Married was a genuine shock, a self-contained actor giving an aching, ripped-from-the-guts performance that deserved an Oscar more than the one that she actually won for Les Misérables. Granted, her choices haven’t been as sound in the last few years (hello, Bride Wars!), but that ends this week as Colossal opens in Tarrant County, a science-fiction comedy that boasts what might be her greatest — and certainly her funniest — work yet.
She plays Gloria, an unemployed New York writer and alcoholic party girl who lives off the charity of her British boyfriend (Dan Stevens) until he gets tired of seeing her stumble home at all hours and kicks her out. She crawls back to her depressing hometown up north and crashes at her parents’ empty house with no money and no plan except to continue her drinking at the local bar tended by her childhood friend Oscar (Jason Sudeikis). That’s when a 50-foot horned monster starts appearing in Seoul and rampaging through the South Korean capital. It only appears at 8:05 a.m. Gloria’s time when she’s drunk. More worryingly, it exhibits all her mannerisms, including her habit of absent-mindedly scratching the top of her head.
Right, so the monster is a metaphor for the collateral damage that Gloria inflicts on other people when she’s wasted. As metaphors go, it’s nowhere near as subtle as the one from The World’s End, that other great comic science-fiction alcoholism parable. Still, the setup does give Hathaway a chance to be helplessly funny. She does drunken pratfalls as well as any actor, but she reaches another level when Gloria watches the TV news reports, silently freaking out as she realizes what’s happening. She also shines in a running gag where Gloria wakes up in pain from repeatedly passing out while splayed on a park bench or propped up against a wall. At one point, Gloria tests her theory about the monster by gesticulating with her arms in a children’s playground at 8:05, and what makes the scene is the desperate, disbelieving look on Hathaway’s face.
This is the demented brainchild of Spanish writer-director Nacho Vigalondo, who keeps the North American parts of this movie as low-rent as possible to set us up for a spectacular climax in Seoul, with big crowds and large-scale destruction that Gloria witnesses firsthand. She winds up taking control of the monster by embracing it in a sneakily feminist twist that’s done so cleverly, you’ll want to stand up and cheer. Vigalondo could have parlayed his technically impressive 2007 science-fiction feature debut Timecrimes into a Hollywood superhero franchise, but he’s got something more thoughtful on his mind.
The same goes for Hathaway. We should spare a word for her co-star (who knew Sudeikis could do repressed rage so well?), but Colossal doesn’t work without Hathaway’s utter commitment to its bizarre conceit. She makes compelling drama out of a simple late scene in her living room when Gloria realizes that Oscar’s issues run even deeper than hers. The movie’s final shot of her reacting to an offer of a drink is a great ending joke, too. Instead of playing Miss Perfect, Hathaway’s playing a woman smart enough to know she’s made a mess of her life and is trying to fix things. That refreshing turn makes this odd film so oddly compelling and funny.
Starring Anne Hathaway and Jason Sudeikis. Written and directed by Nacho Vigalondo. Rated R.