“I think the exact email I got from my agent was, ‘This might be too weird, but it might be the right weird,'” the actress recently told IndieWire when asked about her first introduction to the project. “I read it and it felt like it was the right weird.”
An innovative blend of high concept sci-fi and romcom tropes, “Colossal” gives “Kong: Skull Island” a run for its money as the disaster movie of the year, which is why it’s somewhat of a shock to consider that it almost didn’t get made at all. Vigalondo first gained exposure among genre fans for his labyrinthine time-travel comedy “Timecrimes,” but it has taken years for him to make a more widely-accessible crowdpleaser. “Colossal” is the result of years’ worth of unrealized projects, and it finally arrives in theaters as a rejoinder to the restrictions of Hollywood formula.
The Right Kind of Weird
The Spanish filmmaker’s latest feature stars Hathaway as Gloria, an alcoholic writer who moves back to her small hometown to dry out and regroup after her boyfriend (Dan Stevens) kicks her out of their swanky New York loft (and effectively ending her boozy city girl lifestyle). Back in suburbia, Gloria takes up with a local bar crowd (including her old friend Oscar, played by Jason Sudeikis) and attempts to muddle her way through a quarter-life crisis that shows absolutely no sign of letting up. And then there’s that monster thing.
The marketing for “Colossal” doesn’t hide its twist — that a brutally hungover Gloria wakes up one morning, only to learn that while she was presumably sleeping off last night’s bender, Seoul has suddenly played home to a giant, street-stomping monster. Turns out, Gloria was essentially puppeteering her very own kaiju, half a world a way and with absolutely no idea of her connection to the city-crushing monster. And that’s only the first twist.
While “Colossal” happily piles on more and more shockers, it manages to stay grounded because of Vigalondo’s tight grasp on complicated material and Hathaway’s breakthrough performance as the wildly troubled (yet somehow still relatable) Gloria. For Vigalondo — whose films “Timecrimes,” “Extraterrestrial” and “Open Windows” foreground eccentric characters as much as plot — the story of “Colossal” isn’t about a monster, it’s about a woman.
“This idea was there, but it didn’t become something solid and something I was passionate about until I found out who Gloria was,” Vigalondo explained. “If Gloria’s the main character, why is she fighting? What is she fighting for? Who’s the other guy? Once you’ve got her, everything just fell into place really, really fast.”
Early reports about the film played up its kaiju film roots to the point that Toho, who owns the rights to classic Japanese monsters like Godzilla, sued Vigalondo and production company Voltage Pictures over their use of their trademark monster. (The lawsuit was quickly settled in October of 2015, reportedly under the stipulation that the film avoid using a Godzilla lookalike, and no, Gloria’s monster doesn’t look like Toho’s big bad.)
The filmmaker chalked that all up to how the movie was sold at the Cannes market, adding that it “hasn’t affected the way the movie was made. Nothing has changed from the initial plan.” It doesn’t hurt that, for all its monster-smash action, “Colossal” is less concerned with taking on kaiju films than with cracking open an even more terrifying genre: romantic comedies.
“The movie is not making a comment on kaiju films, because I don’t want this movie to be a satire on kaiju films, I don’t want to judge kaiju films,” Vigalondo said. “While the movie shows an open love towards monster movies, it’s actually making a comment on romantic comedies.”
Just What the Actors Ordered
The very casting of Hathaway reflects that decision, and the actress — who has done her time in more traditional romcoms ranging from “Bride Wars” to the indie “Song One” — was eager to see a deconstructive alternative. “This is a movie that I would be first in line to see whether or not I was in it,” she said. “It’s just exactly my sense of humor, it’s the way I like to think about things without being made sad by them. I love genre subversion. This one actually feels very, very personal to me.”
For years, she has juggled less adventurous offers. “Somebody asked me, ‘Why don’t you make more of these?'” she recalled. “I’m like, ‘Where are they? Why don’t they make more of these?’”
Sudeikis added, “It didn’t strike me as different in the sense of what I’m used to, but different in the sense of what is out there.”
Sudeikis was also looking for something unexpected to pull him away from post-“Saturday Night Live” associations and a string of tonally similar features, including comedies like “Horrible Bosses” and the indie romance “Tumbledown.” Vigalondo’s film offered him the kind of unexpected part that surprised the actor even on the page.
“This came at a time that happened to be after a few rom-com or romantic-dramedies,” Sudeikis explained. “It was a fun, familiar 30 pages that then got more and more interesting as we went. The surprise was, ‘Oh that’s where he’s going with this guy.’ I thought that was just fucking delightful.”
And yet that all ties very nicely into what Vigalondo has built with his feature, snapping up an Oscar winner like Hathaway who has done her fair share of romantic films, putting her alongside Sudeikis, so often recognizable as the lovable cad with a heart of gold. That’s the formula Vigalondo wanted to spin, a movie about monsters both literal and emotional.
As he mapped it out, “Anne Hathaway is being dumped by her ex-boyfriend, she goes to town and meets Jason Sudeikis, this is the perfect template for a romantic comedy! The romantic triangle is perfectly defined! People completely know what to expect from these three characters, and then this happens, and it’s terrifying.”
Trusting the Audience
Despite the heady number of twists that unfurl during the course of the film, Vigalondo trusts his audience to pick up on some of the hints and information he lays out from the beginning – the kind of “data” that Hathaway “gave her chills” – and his stars couldn’t get enough of it.
“I love that kind of storytelling,” Sudeikis said. “All people want to do is put themselves in these positions a little bit. The more space you give people, the more they’re willing to fill in those gaps with their own personal history and imaginations. We don’t hit it on the head too much. You pick what you want out of it.”
That didn’t stop Vigalondo from adding his own signature flair to the film. “Every time I wrote a sequence that was potentially boring, I needed to twist things,” the filmmaker explained. “Really pushing the characters in directions that could be more unexpected even for themselves. I’m really scared of boring people. I’m okay if you hate the film, but I don’t want you to be bored.”
It’s a familiar reframe from Vigalondo, who admitted he actively reads bad reviews of his films and takes them to heart, maybe even more than the good ones.
“I have this Jekyll and Hyde situation where I love to make something that betrays expectations, but at the same time I love to make everybody happy in the theater,” he said. “I know that both things are not compatible.”
Hathaway and Sudeikis are a little more secure that people will enjoy the film, if only they are willing to check out something that’s not very easy to explain in a snappy manner (did we mention there are twists?).
“I think an important part of this film is that you can go and just enjoy it as a film,” Hathaway said. “If you want to think, you can think, but it’s not going to make you sad. It’s not a depressing movie, it’s hard at times, but it’s not depressing. It makes you feel good in a lot of ways, unless you just don’t know how to feel good.”
The film even wraps up with a smart little quip, hardly the kind of conclusion most audiences would expect from a film that manages to tackle both the consequences of alcoholism and the destructive power of massive kaiju monsters.
“I think the fact that he managed to end on a joke,” Hathaway said when asked about her favorite part of the film. “I busted a gut laughing at the end of that joke. It just reminded me of dessert, I couldn’t get enough.”(Hathaway added that another ending was suggested, one that cuts off just before that final joke she loved so well, but she and Vigalondo both rejected it.)
A Friendly Crowd
“Colossal” is hitting theaters after a healthy festival run, having premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in September of last year and subsequently screening at both Fantastic Fest and Sundance. It’s also the first big release for Tim League and Tom Quinn’s new NEON shingle, and one that should set the tone for their slate to come. (Vigalondo and League are longtime friends, the filmmaker even based a particular scene in the film on hanging with the notoriously wild Alamo Drafthouse owner, one that involves a ton of ill-advised fireworks.) It’s a fitting home for Vigalondo, who is less concerned with making money than making films that he can stand by.
“If some time in the future, you find me obsessed with box office, please punch me in the face,” Vigalondo said. “I don’t want to come to this point in my life where I’m gonna make a movie in those terms. I want to be excited by stories until I die.”
Vigalondo is working on a new script, though he’s not sure if it will end up being the next film he makes. As for the studio stuff? Face-punching possibilities aside, he’s not shying away from the chance to make something on a bigger scale, and he pointed to unique blockbusters like “Mad Max: Fury Road” and “Get Out” as proof that studio system is capable of nurturing and creating unique offerings.
He’s still not sure that’s where he fits, though. “Some people around me are sure of that, but I don’t know if this movie’s getting that kind of confidence,” he said when asked if a studio film is in the cards for him. “I don’t know if somebody at that level is attracted to the way I write. I’m not trying to be cynical about that, it would be amazing to try something, but I don’t know for now if this is attractive for studio executives.”
He added, “Now is the moment when I step into a big franchise and I destroy the whole thing.” He laughed, but that is one monster movie we’d pay to see.
“Colossal” will hit theaters on Friday, April 7.