Scott Pilgrim vs The World

Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz director Edgar Wright adapts Bryan Lee O’Malley’s cult comic book series Scott Pilgrim vs The World for a fast, funny modern romance.

As the story opens, twentysomething Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) is engaged in a chaste, hand holding affair with a high-school girl named Knives Chau (Ellen Wong). Knives thinks that Scott and his band Sex-bob Omb (with bearded frontman Mark Webber and the adorably bad-tempered Alison Pill behind the drums) are the coolest thing ever, but then by her own admission, she only discovered good music a few months ago. Scott spends his days playing the bass and sitting around. He doesn’t have a job, or much to do, and he doesn’t particularly care.

Then, on the same day that his roguish gay roommate Wallace (Kieran Culkin) tells him he must move out of the apartment, Scott meets and instantly falls in love with a pink-haired parcel courier named Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). His attempts to woo her with arcane Pac-Man trivia falls flat, so instead, Ramona presents him with a challenge: to win her heart he must defeat her seven evil ex-boyfriends (and one girlfriend) in battle. So Scott’s eternally static life is periodically jolted into action by the regular arrival of flamboyant former flames looking to fight to the death, his only help coming from a series of snazzy power-ups and kung-fu special moves familiar to anyone who ever picked up a joystick.

The original comic books are a paean to gloriously wasted youth; an innocent, slouchy dissolution that squanders time on gaming consoles, television and movies. These disposable, quotable pleasures are the source of Scott Pilgrim’s infinite variety of catchphrases, inside-jokes and conversational titbits. Whether you’ll like the film or not is heavily dependent on your ability to tune your ear to Scott Pilgrim’s particular nonsense-frequency.

From the opening Universal credit sequence, rendered as a 16-bit animation, through to the rain of coins that accompany a vanquished foe, Scott Pilgrim is steeped in video-game culture. There are snatches of soundtrack from classic games like Zelda and Super Mario Brothers and visual lifts from dozens more, scattered throughout the story in a series of knowing nods to the audience’s misspent adolescences. Set in the local music scene in Toronto, this is a film about music, too. Buried beneath the babble of nerd-talk, Seinfeld theme tunes and Donkey Kong references, both comic book and film make a stirring case for listening to and playing music as the antidote to teenage boredom.

The pairing of an anxious, fumbling loser with a smart woman who is way out of his league is beyond cliché at this point, particularly for Michael Cera, who in his dozen films has yet to play any other character. That Scott Pilgrim rises above the familiar to become something surprising and fresh is partly owing to Wright’s kinetic visual style but also to the robust performances from the female characters, including Anna Kendrick as Scott’s snide sister and Aubrey Plaza as Julie, a coffee-shop barista who never tires of reminding our hero that he is an idiot. It’s not all fun and games, however. The burgeoning romance between Scott and Ramona is severely weakened by the regular arrival of yet another elaborately over-dressed bad-guy and another elaborately over-choreographed fight sequence. A few of these scenes might easily have been removed without harming the storyline, but that might have met with a negative response from comic book fans, who typically demand absolute devotion to the source text.

I got some big laughs from Scott Pilgrim, more than any other comedy so far this summer. It’s witty, sweet and very geeky and, best of all; it doesn’t ask to be taken seriously. There is no real purpose to any of the uncountable homages rendered other than that they are, or were once, something teenagers got a kick out of. That’s not to say the film is entirely empty. Wright imbues his characters with a charming sincerity and openness, with Scott and his friends willing to embrace novelty and accept difference. They’re smart, too. “Don’t let the past ruin the future”, someone says in a rare quiet moment, sound advice whatever the age bracket.

1 comment:

clom said...

i was really really surprised at how little i loved this film.

the art and sound design is really brilliant but it's a surprisingly inert, dare I say, heartless enterprise. the romance is excruciating (not to mind groan-inducingly chaste), the story takes a while to get going and then slots into a clunky format in such a thrall to how AWESOME it is that it forgets that you're supposed to root for characters.

If I was being bitchy I'd say that (the admittedly flawed) Whip It is a better movie purely because it's a teen movie about escaping suburban boredom and clearly loved the subculture it portrayed rather than just being Singles seen through a Wii-Laedoscope.