Fans of the rom com-subverting Wright film will fall in lesbians with Colossal.
Colossal, Nacho Vigalondo’s excellent genre-bending monster movie, seems to focus on the central relationship between bar-dwelling characters played by Anne Hathaway and Jason Sudeikis before being subverted by the film’s utter cleverness into something much darker. In this way, it’s similar to one of my favorite Edgar Wright films and, I predict, will attract and hold the same kind of dedicated cult following.
Wright, in his relatively brief directorial career, has become the master of comedic-genre films that recognize and embrace their traditional tropes while subverting expectations of cliched romance. In fact, Wright’s said in an interview that each of the films in his Cornetto Trilogy is a Trojan horse: “genre films that have a relationship comedy smuggled inside a zombie movie, a cop movie, and a sci-fi movie.” Hot Fuzz loves its action-oriented police thrillers in all their convoluted bromantic glory while The World’s End enjoys the group dynamic of aged college friends through the Twilight Zone filter of an alien invasion. Shaun of the Dead is perhaps his only truly romantic film, a movie with a rocky relationship at its core that drives the protagonist in all his plotted actions and eventually ends in reconciliation.
But none of these are the movie I’m thinking of. They’re all too honestly focused on healthy relationships or, at least, relationships that become healthier over time. I’m thinking of a film far too technicolor to be as mean as it is and too light to include its gut punches.
I’m thinking of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.
Scott Pilgrim is a movie, like Colossal, that’s central relationship is a misdirection. Scott (Michael Cera) must fight off evil exes in order to sustain his romance with Ramona (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). But it’s never quite clear why any of this is happening or what Ramona thinks of it all until the end. Colossal also starts you off simple: Hathaway’s character is going through a messy and complex break-up but not an unfamiliar one. Then the film slowly evolves. It’s a genre film masquerading as a rom-com, waiting to burst its kaiju dorkiness and subversive humor from the chest of its relationship like a xenomorph.
Both films speak the language of romantic comedies — the meet cutes, the awkward flirting, the small fights, — only to break it, bend it, and distort it through their native tongues. Scott Pilgrim is a hyper-kinetic marriage of teenage daydreaming, slacker garage rock, and an adolescence spent on video games while Colossal takes two parts dark, alcoholic mumblecore humor and one part broad Godzilla cartoonishness, then shakes well.
When we finally realize that perhaps Mr. Pilgrim isn’t suited to love the equally ill-prepared Ramona (whom he barely knows), the film’s protagonist earns the Power of Self-Respect (a sword) to use in the final confrontation. Meanwhile, we earn a new appreciation for a film much deeper than your average overly-stylized teen romp.
Similarly, when Sudeikis begins shifting away from his nice guy persona and more towards an internet “Nice Guy” persona (in all its desperate, suppressed, angry creepiness), we realize Colossal’s central relationship isn’t the dramatic element worth saving — it’s the manifestation and continuation of abuse that generates the monster in the first place. It’s not the silver lining, it’s the metaphorical threat creating its kaiju like the hydrogen bomb did with Godzilla.
While Hathaway is a phenomenal presence in the film, Sudeikis shifts so effectively that we can’t believe we didn’t see it coming. It’s the same feeling in Scott Pilgrim when we realize that the lead duo only just hooked up and perhaps this relationship is all being blown far out of proportion. Wright uses this for laughs, bittersweet as they may be, but Vigalondo twists the knife. This isn’t fun anymore, but it’s breathlessly compelling.
These films subvert our facile genre expectations (“oh, I hope they get together”) with humor, violence, and unexpectedly dark themes all done so well that they become brilliant juggling acts of multi-level pleasure. I want my id’s cake but I’d like to eat it with a fork and knife.
Colossal gives me monster movie homages and belly laughs while furthering intelligent commentary about male expectation and masculine fear of feminine greatness. Scott Pilgrim plays with medium so freely and flexibly that it’s a wonder it holds together as a movie, but all in the service of damning a fantasy relationship made up in the mind of a selfish twenty-something. Both beautifully undermine romantic expectations to further their love of specific genres, creating winning mash-ups that will live on in the dorm rooms and apartments of tastemaking nerds for years to come.