The concept of Colossal is so irresistible, it's almost impossible to believe that a movie as fumbling as Colossal could have possibly been made out of it. Herein is the story of a woman named Gloria (Anne Hathaway), who has succeeded in fucking up her whole adulthood as a New York-based writer due to alcohol, and who, in the opening minutes, has finally used up the last bit of sympathy her boyfriend Tim (Dan Stevens) has been able to keep in reserve. He throws her out, and she stumbles back upstate to her childhood home, where her old friend with an obvious crush on her, Oscar (Jason Sudeikis), happily contributes to her quickening descent by giving her a job at the bar he owns. She is, in all ways, a messy, destructive force operating on instinct more than by conscious will. And it's no coincidence at all that right at the same time this is happening, the city of Seoul is being plagued by a giant monster rampaging through the downtown area every night at the same time. It's no coincidence because Gloria is the monster: when she steps into a local playground at 8:05 AM, the monster appears in Seoul from a storm cloud, and precisely repeats her motions.

So the out-of-control, destructive drunk is inadvertently driving an out-of-control, destructive kaiju. Pretty nifty metaphor, I'd say, wouldn't you? Well, treasure it for the moment you can, because just about the exact same instant that Colossal finishes establishing its central conceit, it starts shitting itself, and it never stops. The film agrees that it's a nifty metaphor; so nifty, in fact, that it very quickly positions the metaphor front-and-center, before story logic, before tonal consistency, even before characters. Which is extra-painful, given that the metaphors in this film first and foremost exist in order to help explain character.

It's an idea-driven film, ostensibly, though the ideas are presented without much grace, and with no connection between the several points that writer-director Nacho Vigalondo's script is taken up with. We have, first, the portrayal of a self-destructive alcoholic; we have, second, the overriding idea of people who slightly hate themselves sabotaging their lives to punish themselves; we have, third, a story about learning how to take personal responsibility for shit you've done, even when it was done on accident. And those are all the same thing! Yet somehow, they feel disjointed and underexplored in Colossal, which never commits to actually dealing with the consequences of its story or actually digging into its themes. Like my number three, taking responsibility: that's a huge part of the arc Gloria has to go through, and it seems to have happened almost completely inadvertently and without any emphasis.

This has much to dow with the fourth story Colossal wants to tell, and I find myself unwilling to say what it is, because it counts as a spoiler; but when it comes along, it changes the tone of the film massively, very clearly on purpose, and totally ineffectively. For one thing, it demands that Sudeikis does things that he is not, as an actor, equipped to do; for another, it demands that he do them almost entirely within the space of a single scene. A very busy, bogged-down scene, one that needs to set up an entirely new set of stakes and central conflict in about ten seconds, and fails absolutely to do so.

The net result of all this is that Gloria becomes a side character in her own story, which is extremely disappointing. For Hathaway is terrific in the part, turning her giant, adorable eyes and general persona of gee-whiz enthusiasm towards a role made up of nothing but dissolute behavior and prickly edges and an automatic, defensive "fuck you" stance directed at the audience as well as the rest of the characters. It's an obvious evolution of her performance in Rachel Getting Married back in 2008, arguably still the best work of her career; but where Rachel was a humanist character drama, and thus the nasty edges of Hathaway's work were obliged to hem themselves into a basically naturalistic framework, Colossal is a dark satiric fantasy. Meaning that Gloria can be a properly extreme, caricatured figure, as off-putting as she is maddeningly sympathetic in her flailing behavior. It's a terrific job of bringing an unlikable character to life in a way that makes her enjoyable to watch, and without ceding any of our ability to empathise with her as the plot advances. And watching the film grow increasingly interested in Gloria as a reactive character, existing solely in reference to Oscar's choices and actions, is painfully disappointing, particularly since Sudeikis simply cannot get a handle on the character, who goes from awkward dork to sociopathic supervillain in approximately an eighth of a second - not that poor writing is the actor's fault, but he's done not one single thing to help it.

Even without that central problem darkening every fucking plot beat of the film's second half (at 109 minutes, it's not "long", but it sure as hell isn't using its time well), Colossal would feel like an endless succession of missed opportunities. It loses the thread of its character arcs even as it doubles-down on the metaphor and on-the-nose thematic messaging; it completely fails to grapple with the narrative implications of the central "she controls a monster!" hook, leaving the impression that even the characters themselves know it's just a big overwrought metaphor. I mean, set aside how badly the film mangles its attempt to suggest that there are, after all, hundreds of Koreans dying as a result of this (the script and characters are aware that this is happening, but they don't seem to have a handle on what this means); just the simple fact that Gloria is, in fact, a demigod seems to be of virtually no emotional significance for her or anybody else. And maybe that's the joke, but it's not a good one.

The film's failure to take its own concept seriously is the original sin from which it never recovers. There's some good humor (in the first half, before it stops being a comedy), Hathaway is terrific even when the writing is letting her down, the budget CGI looks really great, and there are some really fun cuts as the film tries to drop us into the context-free sprawl of Gloria's life. And none of it matters a whit. Bumbling a terrific concept like this is apparently Vigalondo's thing; it's almost exactly the same problem I had with the only other one of his three earlier films I've seen, 2007's Timecrimes. He's a great idea man, obviously; but ideas only matter if the execution supports them, and Colossal is miscalculated at every turn. It has heart, but absolutely no good sense.