Nacho Vigalondo’s new movie Colossal has perhaps the strangest premise of any movie that’s premiered here at the Toronto International Film Festival: Anne Hathaway plays a drunk who returns to her hometown and discovers that she can manifest a rampaging monster on the other side of the world every time she walks through a nearby playground. As fantastical as that plot may sound — and trust me, you haven’t lived until you’ve watched Hathaway make a giant tree-monster do the Batusi — the movie is grounded by some very real themes, including an exploration of addiction and, in what may be the film’s most debated touch, a character whose slow-building resentment allows Vigalondo to audaciously tackle the archetypal Angry White Man.
(Minor spoilers follow, but trust me when I tell you that there’s so much more going on in Colossal that you’re bound to be constantly surprised.)
As Hathaway’s Gloria begins to recognize the power she wields, she’s initially aided by childhood friend Oscar (Jason Sudeikis), a local tavern owner who’s thrown Gloria a few extra bones by letting her waitress at his bar. Oscar initially seems like a nice, if curiously generous, guy: He’s constantly offering gifts and furniture to the destitute Gloria, even though she didn’t ask for them in the first place. But as the film goes on, and Gloria comes into her own as a woman controlling the most powerful being in the world, the emasculated Oscar tries to keep Gloria under his thumb and starts going to increasingly out-there lengths to bend her to his will. (And because this is Colossal, these machinations involve giant robots and kaiju.)
“Watching the movie last night, I was struck by what a brilliant example this movie offers in terms of why you shouldn’t give hateful men great amounts of power,” Hathaway told me earlier this week, noting that her character also struggles to extricate herself from a judgmental ex-boyfriend (Dan Stevens). “I don’t know if it’s because I’m a woman or just because I’m a breathing person in the year 2016, but I found it really right to see a woman pull herself out from under traditional male bullshit.”
Sudeikis, who’s often cast as the rakish good guy, was intrigued by the way Vigalondo described Oscar’s arc. “We spoke about groups of people that now, in one year’s time, we’ve come to define as the alt-right,” said Sudeikis, who tied the film’s themes to “Gamergate and all these things going on with gender politics.”
“It’s strange how timely it is,” added Hathaway.
“Yeah,” said Sudeikis, “and at the same time, men have systemically been turds to people unlike them for years.”
For Vigalondo, it was important to establish Oscar as a normal person, not a cartoonish adversary. “You can’t judge the guy. You’ve got to empathize,” he told me. “When you see these movies that deal with abuse or domestic violence, I hate when the bad guy is the bad guy from the very beginning. In real life, people are triggered by something. The men who act like monsters, they don’t always look like monsters from the very beginning.”
Vigalondo noted that unlike Gloria, who lived a glamorous but dissolute life in New York for years before returning home, Oscar never left his hometown and resents the woman who’s attained higher highs than he has. “Anne Hathaway’s character is someone that I’ve been at some point, and even Oscar is probably a projection of myself,” he said. “What would be the worst version of myself? I can be super progressive, I can be super nice, I can be super concerned about gender issues. But what if I wasn’t able to make films? What if I stayed in my old town working and doing something much more boring? What if I didn’t have this privileged life?”
That’s how Vigalondo found Oscar’s core humanity, despite his insecure, vengeful exterior. “If I was frustrated and my dreams didn’t come true, I could become a different person,” he said. “And, probably, that awful person isn’t that far from me.”