I like Anne Hathaway. Do you? Never mind, don’t tell me. It’s 2017, not 2013 — otherwise, publicly reckoning with our feelings about her would still be the hip thing to do. Headlines like "Why is Anne Hathaway so unlikable?" and "Why Do Women Hate Anne Hathaway (But Love Jennifer Lawrence)?" would still read as worthwhile inquiries. How disliked she is would continue to be a fair subject on first dates: What do you do for a living? Do you want kids? Do you agree that Anne Hathaway is terrible? I once loudly and drunkenly greeted a pizza guy with, "It came true!" as I mockingly cradled my pizza — and the pizza guy got the joke.
Actually, I still think that one’s funny, and I would probably still pull a stunt like that today, but only for nostalgia’s sake: The moment is gone. God willing, the moment for meta-analyzing "the moment" is also gone. It’d be great if we could just move past it: the Oscars speech, the (even more grating) post-Oscars speech, the backlash, the rebound from the backlash, the current dancing around rehashing the pain of it all — the whole cycle. Let’s be done with it. Whether or not we like Anne Hathaway has no bearing on her skill as an actress. Grating personalities are valuable to movies — otherwise, no member of the Pussy Posse would have a career.
We can’t seem to leave the Hathaway thing behind, however, despite the growing insistence that we move on. Hathaway’s film choices have long wrestled with what we think of her, with roles like the post-rehab meanie in Rachel Getting Married doing more than its share to erase all trace of Becoming Jane and Ella Enchanted from the universe, lest we begin to think she’s good at only one thing. Hathaway is never better than when she’s bad, never more fun than when she’s stuck up and mean, deliberately pivoting from the bright-eyed and bushy-tailed theater nerd image that got her started. She’s made a career of this kind of about-face — and her new movie, Colossal, is no exception. Nacho Vigalondo’s movie, starring Hathaway, Jason Sudeikis, and Dan Stevens, is ostensibly a sci-fi comedy. The plot follows a woman who realizes she inadvertently has a monster avatar: a 100-foot, scaly, ugly kaiju that starts destroying Seoul every morning at about 8 a.m.
That, at least, is the literal story. But the real story is Hathaway herself, who, in films like Colossal and 2015’s The Intern, has chosen to reinsert herself into the conversation by playing women it’s initially hard to like. The premise of Colossal sounds like an exaggerated re-up of every lame joke told about white girls since at least S1E1 of Girls. Think about it: The city of Seoul has to get leveled and hundreds of South Koreans have to get absentmindedly killed, all because a white 30-something woman is, like, figuring herself out, OK? In a comedy, no less. Some slightly less fantastical version of Colossal could be an Amy Schumer skit tailored for one of her famed "sloppy white girl" acts — I can already see Schumer stomping through Seoul. As is, however, it’s an ideal Hathaway role — a bit of justice for everyone who thinks she’s horrible, and an opportunity for Hathaway to play with, and against, precisely that expectation.
The movie starts with a breakup. Hathaway’s character, Gloria, is a mess: a binge drinker who’s been let go from her fancy New York writing job and whose boyfriend, Tim (Stevens), simply can’t take it anymore. Gloria, jobless and now homeless, moves out of the city back to her parents’ empty and unfurnished house to sleep on an air mattress and contemplate rock bottom. She gets a job working at a bar run by a childhood friend named Oscar (Sudeikis), flirts with one of his friends, and quits drinking — things start to look pretty good. It almost isn’t worth it to spoil how and why Gloria discovers that the hideous monster attacking Seoul every morning is, like, her — the movie uses an elaborate mix of flashback and fantasy to get there, but its interest isn’t as much in how this all happens as it is in why.
The "why" is complicated, as much a matter of who Hathaway is on screen as off. "I killed a shit ton of people because I was acting like a drunk idiot — again," Hathaway says as Gloria at one point, in that comically self-deprecating tone she has lately mastered. Gloria is flawed, but not totally fallible — she’s surrounded by men who both egg her on and harm her. Oscar, bearded and buff, is a nice-ish guy whose insecurities push him to take advantage of Gloria’s alcohol dependency for the sake of feeling more in control of his own life. Tim, meanwhile, deliberately tears down Gloria for the sake of being the one to build her back up. They both suck — and so, probably, does every other guy Gloria has dated; they don’t have to appear in the movie to feel fully implied by Gloria herself. She’s the kind of woman who’s long seemed buoyed along by the affection of harmful men, which by the end makes Colossal feel like something of a liberatory tale. The monster, it turns out, becomes a way for Gloria to break free of these prior selves and the men sustaining them.
It’s a nice idea, one of a few in the movie. The film itself is fine — lively and imaginative, but also full of logical loose ends that will either make the movie seem more fantastical or more implausible, depending on you. Not that it matters: The movie is a persona-delivery system, a straightforward star vehicle in the guise of something weirder. Hathaway is the real asset, here, and Vigalondo’s strength as a director is in allowing her to let the character breathe. Hathaway’s performance embodies Gloria’s humiliations and triumphs so fully, and loosely, and with such a "been there" vibe, that you feel the movie is as much about her as the woman she’s playing.
I don’t believe Hathaway went on any monstrous white-girl rampages through Asia. I do believe we once treated her as if she did, which gives Colossal the weirdly biographical bite, the knowing wink, that movies of this genre don’t usually have. Hathaway has gone and become the monster some of us always said she was — and the joke’s on us.