Colossal is out now! Get your tickets here!
***Caution: Major Spoilers for Colossal Ahead***
The Nice Guy™ is an unfortunate male archetype that’s emerged over the last few decades. He’s the guy who’s always there for his female friends - will dote over them and make sure everything is OK, especially when their better-looking boy toys go out all night and forget to call. They offer kind words and give surprise presents. They’re referred to as “besties” or “BFFs”, but women could never imagine dating them. They’re just too “sweet”; plus, they spend way more time lifting a bottle than they do hitting the weights. Eventually, all Nice Guys™ sour, their patience merely a stockpile of ammunition amassed so that, when they do finally gather the gall to ask their friends out and get turned down, their guns are loaded for an emotional drive-by. They become more dangerous and abusive than the girls’ innocuously neglectful beaus. The Nice Guy™ transmutes all those late-night talks into salt, ready to be rubbed into open gunshot wounds. A Nice Guy™ lies. A Nice Guy™ gaslights. A Nice Guy™ uses “bitch or “cunt” out of nowhere.
Jason Sudeikis has made a career out of being a striking everyman – the dude you know from the office who gets down once five o’clock rolls around and it’s time to loosen the tie. A decade spent as a writer and then cast member for Saturday Night Live honed his skills as a comedian, but as a performer he’s retained a disarming ability to blend in and appear as “normal” as an obvious movie star can. His handsomeness isn’t chiseled or refined, but rather that of a wide receiver coach for the local well-to-do high school; a few six packs too many and glory days never quite forgotten, but that head of hair and perfect smile are descended from James Dean. Sudeikis may hail from Virginia, but he could just as easily call Indiana, New York or San Francisco home. In short, he’s never going to audition for James Bond, but he might fuck your girlfriend if you decide not to go out with the group once that closing bell chimes.
Sudeikis has parlayed this amiable familiarity into quite the cinematic CV – starring alongside Jason Bateman, Charlie Day and Jennifer Aniston (not to mention Kevin Spacey and Colin Farrell) in the hit HBO stalwart Horrible Bosses, and its inferior (but still somewhat successful) sequel. He’s Olivia Wilde’s affable supervisor in Joe Swanberg’s Drinking Buddies. His “guy next door” persona was probably best realized in We’re the Millers, where Sudeikis played a veteran weed dealer who needs to form a fake family (reuniting the actor with Aniston) in order to secure a huge shipment. The party boy side of his guise has only been occasionally exploited; like in Eastbound & Down, when he portrayed Kenny Powers’ coke nose minor league associate, Shane Gerald (and then Shane’s more together twin, Cole). For the most part, he’s the constant comedic conformist, attempting to inject a goofy sense of wit into men who would otherwise be boring as hell.
That’s why Sudeikis’ casting in Colossal is a stroke of genius. His Oscar is practically the first human being Gloria (Anne Hathaway) encounters after retreating to her suburban hometown following a breakup with her bougie boyfriend, Tim (Dan Stevens). Oscar was an elementary school chum who never left their boring borough, inheriting the bar his family owned following his father’s passing. He’s good looking in that Spingsteen sorta way; jean jacket with a wool collar over a plaid shirt. For all intents and purposes, Oscar seems happy; the local boy who may have never left, but at least owns his own business and can rightfully claim to be his own boss. Sure, Oscar decided to close off the character-rich country western half of the tavern (replacing it with a rather generic stab at curating a “hip” vibe), but that doesn’t speak to his personality…does it?
From the get go, Oscar’s Nice Guy™ façade is firmly established. He makes sure all eyes are on Gloria – claiming to be in awe of how she broke away from their small-town life and made something of herself in the big bad city. When they’re hanging out at the bar after hours with two regulars – pretty boy Joel (Austin Stowell) and dazed but good-natured Garth (Tim Blake Nelson) – he even goes out of his way to correct Gloria when she remembers him wanting to be a writer in grade school. “No, you’re the writer,” he says, placing the woman on a pedestal. Later, once Oscar discovers Gloria’s living in her parents’ empty old house, he shows up with a TV, futon, and then a truck full of furniture. He’s a veritable Rooms to Go for her readjustment period.
Little by little, chinks in Oscar’s Nice Guy™ armor begin to appear, namely when Gloria starts to show interest in Joel. When the looker leans in for an inappropriately timed late night kiss, Gloria retreats, but Oscar takes it upon himself to go ballistic, shaming Joel in a way that indicates this isn’t the first time the kid’s made inappropriate sexual advances. The outburst is understandable at first; an act of knighting that doesn’t necessarily seem motivated beyond attempting to keep the friend he just recently rekindled a platonic relationship with safe from wolves dressed in North Face jackets. However, after Gloria later decides to spend the night with Joel, Oscar becomes a prowling menace, challenging her and his other “friends” both at work and in public. His standoffishness initially comes off as juvenile jealousy, but increasingly escalates into moments of mania that’re downright frightening. This climaxes in an indoor firework display to try and intimidate Tim, and physical abuse perpetrated against Gloria that would cause Ike Turner to flinch.
Throughout it all, Sudeikis traverses a tricky tightrope between affable chump and sneering villain, swilling beer and smiling even as he punches his new BFF in the gut. There’s a gleeful self-awareness to Sudeikis’ performance that he hasn’t truly tapped into up until this point. Sudeikis wears his handsome cool like Patrick Bateman’s “mask of sanity”, projecting a veneer of charm that slips off as soon as Oscar’s fragile masculinity is challenged. Colossal could’ve easily become your standard romantic comedy – as Gloria “gets back to her roots” while helping Oscar “move on from his hometown”. Instead, it’s an examination of the ways men try to wholly possess and dominate the women they desire, with Oscar’s Nice Guy™ tendencies becoming fodder for Sudeikis to craft a character that’s more menacing than any fifty-foot-tall kaiju could hope to be. He’s the beast who looks for weakness immediately after he buys a woman a beer, hoping he can exploit it to his advantage. Are those mornings when he comes barging in saying “you don’t remember that?” to Gloria a friendly reminder or a moment of nefarious reality distortion? We’ll probably never know, because Sudeikis’ delivery is pitch perfect.
Another movie that subverts a comedian’s established persona in similar fashion is Joel Edgerton’s The Gift (caution: minor spoilers to follow). In it, Jason Bateman plays a married man looking to start a new family with his wife (Rebecca Hall) when a stranger from his past (Edgerton) enters the picture and tries to befriend the two. Bateman’s character questions the man’s motivations and lifestyle, coming off like a Korean thriller extension of the Michael Bluth shtick he’s perfected (and subsequently been typecast in) since Arrested Development. But the big twist is that the tics and constant interrogations are covering up a similarly abusive interior – in this case, Bateman’s a former bully whose torments helped ruin this man’s life. Both Colossal and The Gift are examples of stellar casting, in which a comedian we generally like and root for has their usual MO serve as a disguise.
A lesser movie would reduce Oscar to nothing more than the Nice Guy™ archetype, but writer/director Nacho Vigolondo and Jason Sudeikis allow him to become a fully formed human. A scene where Gloria visits Oscar’s house fills us in on everything we need to know to try and empathize with this self-made monster. He putzes about his unkempt home, unable to find a damn thing amidst the stacked dirty dishes and piles of trash that have accumulated in the corners. Oscar’s attitudes may be despicable, but he’s still a person – incapable of managing his own life, let alone the complex emotions that come along with living it. His Nice Guy™ tendencies stem from the powerlessness he obviously feels in even the smallest moments of his day-to-day. Thus, Oscar thunders about and stomps on the woman he covets, because he thinks he’s got both the right and the upper hand (for once). His complete slide into horrible abuser acts a funhouse mirror reflection of Gloria’s realization that her own life may be a disaster, but it’s her garbage pile to clean up. No guy can tell her otherwise, no matter what front he puts on.