This post contains minor spoilers for Colossal.
Early on in the story, Colossal lets you off the hook: You don’t have to love Gloria, the reformed party girl turned Godzilla-like monster played by Anne Hathaway. When Nacho Vigalondo’s camera first spies her, she’s hung-over, stumbling into her boyfriend’s Manhattan apartment, slurring a line about her boozy night out. We never see Gloria in party mode, only the morning after. With smeared eyeliner and a cloudy memory, Gloria constantly makes excuses for her drinking or her selfishness, and Colossal isn’t particularly concerned with holding her accountable or finding love. That’s what makes the movie work: This isn’t a movie about relationships, but about men who like having a woman to talk down to (and, you know, monsters).
With raised eyebrow and a tone dripping with moral authority, the boyfriend, Tim (Dan Stevens) kicks her out. Gloria has a drinking problem and no job, and so, he announces, she needs to get her life together. Moments after Tim leaves for work, her loser friends sneak in, ready to plug house music into the aux cord and start their day-drinking. So when Gloria moves home — because she’s broke, not because of some Eat Pray Love–style self-care routine — it’s to a two-story middle-class home without a single piece of furniture in it to welcome her.
Gloria comes without all the usual signifiers of relatability millennial women get in movies. She doesn’t have a batty-but-lovable mother, or dream of making a fiery exit from a job she’s too good for. She really seems like she’d suck, the type of phony friend who’d flake on your plans at the last minute and act like it’s your fault, or invite you out just to hit on your boyfriend. She is — and I mean this very sincerely — just a regular fuck-up: frustrating, selfish, sloppy. It’s refreshing.
Hathaway has battled a sexist likability paradox for most of her career, and Colossal returns her to what made her performance in Rachel Getting Married so compelling: She turns in a great performance as a regular person. Gloria is just a girl who moonlights as a city-destroying monster and who’s trying to not kill people. The details of her glitzy Manhattan life and job loss are inexact: She mumbles something about being a writer and posting a piece that was wildly unpopular on Twitter, and she was fired to minimize blowback. We never learn for sure, but it was probably her fault.
Because Colossal isn’t so consumed with introducing a woman who will inspire a thousand vision boards, the movie is free to focus on the ranging toxicity of the guys she befriends — and show that she doesn’t have to be perfect to deserve more than what they have to offer. Every male character is introduced as being just a little off until they’re revealed to be totally terrible, all for markedly different reasons. Her childhood friend Oscar (Jason Sudeikis) is greedy and jealous. Tim is a lying, self-righteous prig. One of Oscar’s friends — Garth (Tim Blake Nelson) — is a cokehead. Another friend, Joel (Austin Stowell), is cute enough to spend the night with, but his sweetness is revealed to come from his childish inability to think for himself. Colossal is not that interested in romance; sleeping with Joel only establishes Gloria’s carelessness, not her desire.
There’s a moment near the end of the film that crystallizes just how much, and how uniquely, all these guys suck. After Tim arrives in town to chastise Gloria yet again, he accompanies her to her shift at Oscar’s bar, where she’s a waitress. Hathaway is great in this scene, as her wide eyes watch these men — two guys who have slowly and deliberately kept her dependent on their access and attention — size each other up. When Oscar offers Tim a drink, he says he’ll have a beer. Gloria pulls out a chair to join them at the table when Oscar barks an order to run to the bar and make it two.
This exchange lays bare Oscar’s intentions: He’s not really that interested in sleeping with Gloria, or even possessing her. When Tim and Oscar meet, they’re not even fighting over her, let alone for her. They’re just regular misogynists, two dudes satisfied by making her feel miserable and dependent.
When Colossal premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival last year, Vigalondo told Vulture that his movie was informed by Gamergate and the alt-right. That Colossal never begs us to like Gloria is the key to understanding its point: This woman doesn’t have to be quirky or funny to deserve our empathy or the men’s respect. By Colossal’s end, Gloria admits that she has a drinking problem, but she’s just as sloppy and directionless as ever. She never needs a neatly packaged aha! moment, just a chance to get away from the guys who dismiss her — and to figure out that whole Seoul-destroying monster thing.