Hidden behind a dark curtain of hair, her raccoon-ringed eyes peering from under thick bangs, Anne Hathaway seems to be doing penance for the shaved head and gimme-the-Oscar bombast of her award-winning turn in “Les Miserables.” That movie plunged Hathaway — a gifted actress, comedian and singer — into a maelstrom of Internet “hate,” which is cheery millennial-speak for irrational, misdirected (and often sexist) rage.
If Hathaway’s new movie, “Colossal,” doesn’t quiet the haters, nothing will. This clever mash-up of indie rom-coms and Japanese “kaiju” movies (think Godzilla and Mothra) presents an ideal showcase for the actress’s gifts — for spiky self-awareness, slapstick physical humor and subtle changes in tone and color that sneak up on viewers throughout a movie that’s never quite as simple as it seems.
“Colossal” opens with a scene inspired by those Godzilla/Mothra roots, when a little girl in Seoul clutches her dolly to her chest while an enormous monster terrorizes her home town. Cut to 25 years later, when Gloria (Hathaway) stumbles into her boyfriend’s apartment after a raging all-nighter. Clearly it’s happened before, and clearly Tim (Dan Stevens) has had it; he orders her to pack her things, just moments before her fellow revelers pile into the front door to keep the party going.
Homeless and virtually jobless (nominally Gloria is a blogger, but it’s not clear how much work she gets done in between binges and hangovers), she decamps to the New Jersey town she grew up in, setting up a makeshift campsite inside her family’s old, nowdeserted house. Soon enough, she crosses paths with an old school friend named Oscar (Jason Sudeikis), who has taken over his father’s bar and who becomes an instant soul mate. Eventually, the two are tossing back beers after hours, and Oscar is taking a protective interest in Gloria’s welfare, offering her castoff furniture and a job as a waitress.
Just how Gloria’s story intersects with the Korean preamble is a mystery best left unplumbed here, but “Colossal’s” writer-director, Nacho Vigalondo, does a graceful job of intertwining the two events with the perfect balance of credible realism and outright fantasy, along with nods to 9/11 and the ensuing voyeuristic age of the Internet meme. Suffice it to say that the monster returns, with deep ramifications for Gloria, whose bleary search for selfhood and vocation has the same awkward, world-smashing heedlessness. As a 30-something coming-of-age story, “Colossal” is as relatable as they come, its deadpan depiction of lost sheep recalling the Charlize Theron movie “Young Adult.” Vigalondo doesn’t evince the same cynicism and anger as that film reveled in so bitterly, but he’s also not one for easy allegorical equivalencies. Just when you think you’re watching a recovery narrative, he switches up the emotional polarities with much more unsettling and provocative results.
That pivot, as it happens, centers on Oscar, a character who dovetails so completely with Sudeikis’s natural affability that when he undergoes a change, it’s both virtually imperceptible and shocking. It’s at this point, too, that Gloria comes into her own most fully, her dance with Oscar and the rest of the world taking on higher stakes in terms of her own empowerment and survival. “Colossal” ends with an epic showdown between people and their inner demons, in a set piece that’s nothing less than the fight for each one’s soul. Or is it Seoul? In this observant, entertaining, wildly imaginative movie, just about everything has more than one meaning.
R. At area theaters. Contains obscenity. 110 minutes.