Colossal (15)

Three stars

Dir: Nacho Vigalondo

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With: Anne Hathaway, Jason Sudeikis, Dan Stevens

Runtime: 109 minute

WHILE it does not shout mega-budget, this comedy-drama from Spanish writer-director Nacho Vigalondo has a pretty mighty star in the lead in the shape of Oscar-winning Anne Hathaway, she of Les Miserables and The Devil Wears Prada fame.

Must be something a little special to secure her involvement, you might think, and Colossal is indeed out to make its mark at the multiplex as much as the art house by chewing over some big ideas. That it only partly succeeds should not take away too much from the fact it is prepared to have a go. In a sea of sameness it can be just the ticket to chance upon an island where they at least have the ambition to pull a few surprises.

Hathaway plays Gloria, a small town gal who has come to New York City to make it big in writing. But Gloria is not doing too well. She lost the great job, and now she is in danger of losing her good looking boyfriend (Downton Abbey’s Dan Stevens) and his straight out of Crate and Barrel-packed apartment. Gloria, you see, likes to party hearty. In a city where the main intoxicants are meant to be your career or the gym, she is strictly old school, forever looking for answers at the bottom of a glass.

After one school night on the lash too many, Gloria moves back to the town that she left long ago, never intending to see again. She cannot remember much about her life there, so when she runs into Oscar (Jason Sudeikis), who says they were at school together, she goes with the flow, falling in with him and his group of pals. Oscar, local bar owner, also gives her a job. New friends, place to live, job in a bar, could be worse, right?

Except a funny thing keeps happening when Gloria falls asleep. When she wakes it is to news reports that a giant monster has been at large in downtown Seoul. Clumsy and destructive, the creature is like a drunk crashing a party, heedless to the effect it is having on everyone else. Fantastic as it may seem, could there be a connection between stateside, life-is-a-trainwreck Gloria and the monster in South Korea?

Vigalondo has some fun throwing that idea around for a while, before stepping up to something even more ambitious. Gloria stops drinking but the monster is still appearing. There is something Gloria has forgotten from her past, something that has followed her into the present and must be confronted. But what it might be, and who can help her, remain tantalisingly out of sight till Vigalondo is ready to spill.

As the time ticks on, his tale takes some sharp turns into bleaker territory. What is at first a story of a bunch of slackers, led by the genial Oscar, dreaming up ways to pass the time in a town where not very much happens, becomes an altogether more serious affair as tensions mount.

It is hard for comedy to thrive in such up and down terrain, and I spent much of the third act feeling more anxious than amused as I wondered where the tale was headed next. The shift in tone is jarring, while the questions about the story grow. Why, for example, does the monster crop up in Seoul rather than a city elsewhere? Is it a heavy-handed dig at America’s adventures abroad, or just a jovial nod to South Korea’s fondness for creature features?

Vigalondo, the helmer of time travel tale Timecrimes, is fond of a high concept, but on this occasion some may feel he has over-reached. While one can understand what he is trying to say, and the need to say it, the story is too fantastic, too out there, to really draw the viewer in. Still, kudos to Hathaway for taking a punt on something so ambitious, and credit especially to Sudeikis (We’re the Millers, Horrible Bosses), who proves a revelation. Sometimes it really does pay to go big or go home.