Anne Hathaway as a giant monster…really
Hey kids! You know what time it is…I’ll take your deafening silence as confirmation that it’s Indie Art House Corner *cue children’s cheer track;* it’s where the budgets are low, the concepts are high, and nothing makes sense. For this month’s installment we get a film that on paper, is the easiest sell in the world for me: Anne Hathaway plays a woman who’s inadvertently controlling a kaiju wreaking havoc in Seoul, South Korea. But this isn’t some big budget spectacle, otherwise why would I whip out Indie Art House Corner *cue children’s cheer track.* Something else must be going on, and that something is clearly a metaphor for something deep…I think.
So Anne Hathaway portrays Gloria, who is squatting in her childhood home located in a small town after her ex-boyfriend (Beauty & the Beast‘s Dan Stevens) kicks her out of their apartment for being an alcoholic who parties all night and takes advantage of his absence at his place to invite friends over. While back in hometown, she meets up with her childhood friend Oscar (Jason Sudekis), who now runs a bar. After a heavy night of drinking and stumbling home, Gloria wakes up to find a world in shock or seeing a giant monster stomp around Seoul, killing hundreds of people before disappearing into thin air. After a few nights of drinking and watching the monster on television, Gloria makes the horrifying revelation that SHE is somehow controlling the monster.
In any other movie, this would be the start of a superhero tale with a very odd origin. But the director Nacho Vigalondo (late of Timecrimes), uses this setup to explore the topic of toxic behavior and relationships destroying the lives of others…but refuses to take the easy way out in making it black and white. Anne Hathaway’s Gloria is very quickly introduced to us as an alcoholic constantly nursing hangovers and she’s pushed her ex-boyfriend to his breaking point. So far so standard you might think, but then as the film goes on you see that this boyfriend frequently condescends Gloria and shames her for choices. Now this would make the character less sympathetic, but it also makes him far more realistic in terms of flaws. He’s not some poor “nice guy” who’s been taken advantage of by his alcoholic girlfriend, he’s just sick of her shit and he really can’t handle her problem.
This consequently leads us to getting to know Jason Sudekis’ Oscar, who is initially introduced as charming and friendly while seemingly trying to help Gloria get back on her feet; but the film reveals multiple darker truths to his character. And when I say multiple, I mean this guy has problems up his colon. We seriously end up talking about gaslighting, implications of inadequacy, and even hints of major trauma. I won’t go further to avoid spoilers; but suffice it to say, this film has way more topics in mind than it’s initially letting on.
However, this in turn weakens the film severely in the final act with a resolution that didn’t quite stick the landing for me. Don’t get me wrong, it has a definite conclusion for the story you watched, so I can’t say I was disappointed with that; but the movie also ends on a very odd note that makes far more open-ended implications that really don’t go anywhere special. I understand that Vigalondo may have wanted to end on a more ambiguous note (par for the course with the art house scene), but when a perfectly fine conclusion was right there and the film could have cut to black two minutes earlier for a stronger finish. Definitely not a dealbreaker, but I have to deduct a few points honestly from greatness.
And make no mistake, I still think this is a solid film with a very smart script and boasting two A-game level performances from Sudekis and Hathaway. The former has always been a star comedian with his charisma and great delivery, but I haven’t seen him in too much drama. Here, Sudekis demonstrates he is more than capable of handling heavier material if someone were to give him the chance, and I sincerely hope other directors give the opportunity to shine again. His character required some heavy duty work in terms of layers and hiding true motives, so every ounce of respect needs to be thrown his way.
I only brought Sudekis up first in my praises, because Anne Hathaway deserves the last word in my review. Let no one talk smack about her ability (don’t know why they would but I’ve seen some people hate her for very poorly defined reasons), because this film is yet another notch on her very long resume of fantastic performances. It’s a very tricky act to portray a character that is thoroughly unlikable and yet the audience wants to follow to see what she would do next. Hathaway does this effortlessly, while still getting you to sympathize with her emotional baggage as the film continues on. One tiny critique, that my girlfriend caught and I overlooked, was that for an alcoholic, you rarely see her drinking or acting drunk. This may have been a stylistic choice to focus on the after effects of her partying (which plays an important role in other avenues for the film), but she did have a point it lessens the severity of what she’s going for. Though I’d argue that may have been a directorial decision rather than a thespian one.
Regardless, despite my two critiques of the director’s choices that I disagree with, I still think Vigalondo has crafted one of the most intriguing films of the year that deserves introspection and dissection for hours on end, while also providing you a thoroughly thoughtful movie going experience. Even his mastery of a limited special effects budget with the giant monster is to be commended both in terms of how great it looks and how it doesn’t distract you from the main themes of the film. Similarly to Arrival, this is a film that uses a fantastical idea to tell a deeper story on relationships between people to make fascinating revelations.
After seeing this movie, I was initially too bothered by previous critiques to only go as far as awarding this film a MATINEE, but as I typed out my review and give it far more thought. My opinion of the film has only grown in estimation in the week I’ve seen it. Give it a chance if you can catch this in theaters because this a solid…