Alcoholics Preposterous

Colossal a film by Nacho Vigalondo.  With Anne Hathaway, Jason Sudeikis, Austin Stowell.  *???

There’s a mind state called suspension of disbelief, where we overlook an unlikely aspect of a work of art because it is a premise of what we’re watching.  The idea that James Bond would always do the right thing at the right time is preposterous, and has gotten moreso as the series has continued, but we continue watching because Bond movies are so much fun.  Unless you just can’t take it anymore, in which case you’re no longer suspending disbelief and don’t like Bond movies.  In many works of art there might be a slight suspension of disbelief.  But I think that in the strongest works we don’t do that at all.  What we’re seeing seems at least possible, if not likely.

Seldom have I run into a situation in which my favorite movie companion and I disagree so profoundly about a movie.  I found Colossal to be preposterous almost from the get-go, so that after the first twenty minutes I was watching it as a campily bad film.  My companion thought it a brilliant work of art.  And though I haven’t read a huge number of reviews, the ones I’ve seen agree with her rather than me.  We went to the movie because A.O. Scott—whom we often rely on—seemed to like it.  So I’m definitely in the minority.  I may in fact be “wrong” about this movie (which has always seemed a strange thing to say about someone’s feelings about a work of art.  I’m not wrong about how I feel.  My feelings are what I report on).

This review may include a spoiler or two, but nothing the trailer doesn’t also include.

The premise is that Gloria (Anne Hathaway), an Internet writer of some kind, has broken up with her New York boyfriend and had to return home, to a place which is never named but looks like Bumfuck, Pennsylvania.  She moves into the old homestead—which is perfectly intact but empty of furniture (?)—and runs into a friend from the old days named Oscar (Jason Sudeikis).  He now owns the bar his parents once owned, and not only invites Gloria to come hang out, but eventually asks her to work there.  That’s a red flag because Gloria’s problem in New York—the reason her boyfriend asked her to leave—was that she was a party girl who stayed out until all hours and came home hungover.  It’s not a red flag for Gloria, alas.  Her boyfriend was mean to her and now she’s lucked into a job at a bar.  It’s as if she’s died and gone to heaven.

So a lot of the early part of the movie—too much for me—involves drunks sitting around after hours in a bar, drinking and talking and forgetting what they said.  It’s not an inspiring group of people.  Things get slightly more interesting one day when Gloria awakens late in the afternoon and finds that a Godzilla like monster has made an appearance in Seoul, South Korea.  And if you’ve seen the trailer, you know that the monster’s actions bear an uncanny resemblance to the actions Gloria is performing at that exact moment, and only occur if Gloria has walked into a particular playground at a particular time.

That brings up my first objection to science fiction (pardon me for being an unimaginative dolt): if Godzilla was really about the specter of nuclear war, as I’m told it was, why not write a movie about the specter of nuclear war, instead of embodying it in a metaphorical monster?  Why is creating the monster better than facing the issue?  And if, in this case, the movie is about the unfelt and unexplored rage that makes someone an alcoholic, why not write about that directly?  Why ask us to believe that the rage taking place in Bumfuck, Pennsylvania also suddenly appears as a gigantic monster in Seoul, South Korea (not Japan.  Is that what makes this movie original?  It has apparently been sued by the makers of Godzilla).

It isn’t Gloria’s rage that makes it appear.  The first two times, she wasn’t angry, just hungover.  In any case, once her friend Oscar shows up in the same playground, he appears in Seoul as a gigantic robot, so he and the monster interact and argue and eventually get into fights.  It seems that, despite the fact that Gloria and Oscar seem all lovey dovey in the present, there was some barely suppressed rage in their past which they never worked out.  That’s the real reason the monster appeared.  It had appeared once before when the two of them were twelve or so, and this thing happened . . .  But you get the picture.

Okay, anger makes us monsters, especially anger we haven’t faced, especially some basic rage at the world that we’ve never confronted and that we’ve been drinking to tamp down and have hidden by being nice all the time, though being nice is certainly preferable to slugging somebody in the jaw.  But why can’t the truth of this drama be enacted in Bumfuck?  Why does it have to manifest in Seoul, South Korea (which seems to have enough trouble of its own), so that once again we see Asian people screaming and cowering at the sight of a huge monster?  I’m  supposed to find that entertaining?

It is a Buddhist truth that when a butterfly flaps its wing on the other side of the world, it has an effect on me.  I get that, though I’m not sensitive enough to feel the effect.  But it doesn’t generate a monster that starts knocking down buildings.  If you want to write about anger and the effects of alcoholism, by all means do that (though there’s nothing more boring, in this movie or any other, than a room full of drunks), but write about them here, where they’re happening.

On the other hand, if you’re the kind of person who loves monster movies, loves the kind of truth that only they can show, you’ve long since quit reading this review.  You’re heading for the theater right now.  Just be sure to check your disbelief at the door.