Movie Review: Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2010)
As you may have guessed from the commercials, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is about a guy named Scott Pilgrim who falls in love with a girl named Ramona Flowers who has something like seven evil exes who are all jealous enough of Scott that they’re willing to converge upon Toronto in an effort to kill him. What might not come across, at least not immediately, is that Scott Pilgrim is also a film about false, manufactured cool, being stuck in the ruts, and throwing off the post-collegiate slacker malaise that haunts more than a few 22-year-olds who spent school digging through crates of vinyl and rifling through the racks at Goodwill. It’s about life, man, which is a hard enough thing to capture on film, let alone a film whose source material is a series of graphic novels influenced by ADHD, 90s indie rock music, and old coin-op arcade games.
Luckily Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera), aimless though he is, leads quite the life. He was once the member of a band who signed to a huge record deal the second they dumped him. The leader of that band was his girlfriend, now She Who Will Not Be Spoken Of. After a year’s worth of moping, Scott goes out with Knives Chau (Ellen Wong), a 17-year-old Chinese girl in Catholic high school who likes playing arcade games and talking Scott’s ear off about yearbook club and high school drama. Then Ramona (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) roller skates through his dreams. Then she shows up at the library. Then she’s at this party Scott goes to. Then she’s at Scott’s front door, delivering the CDs he’d ordered from Amazon.ca in the hope that she’d be the one delivering them.
Serendipity, right? One thing leads to another, Scott and Ramona end up going on a first date, and shortly thereafter, Scott is visited upon by the League of Evil-Exes, each member tougher and more powerful than the last. Things are more complicated than that, given the presence of a jilted Knives Chau, but a more detailed description of the plot is unnecessary.
Let’s go back to the themes. Jealousy. Heartbreak. Scott’s heart is broken by Envy. Scott breaks the heart of both Knives and Kim Pine (Alison Pill), the drummer in his band, the Sex Bob-Ombs. Ramona breaks the hearts of her seven evil exes, none of whom were terribly evil until Ramona, fickle of heart and hair color, dumped them. Scott tries to avoid Envy, believes that things are fine with Kim, ignores Knives. Ramona runs to Toronto to escape the seventh evil ex. None of this works though. Nobody is as oblivious as Scott, and Gideon (Jason Schwartzman) may just be legitimately evil, forcing erstwhile indie music acts to sell their souls and blowing off Scott as if sending six other guys to Toronto to kill him was no biggie.
By fighting the seven exes in a way that more accurately captures the spirit of a good fighting game than any film adaptation of a fighting game, Scott and Ramona are able to physically dump the ghosts that have been haunting them. Ramona calls her exes out for their shallow obsessions. Scott headbutts the guy Envy left him for so hard that he bursts into change. Scott learns about love and self-respect through bloodletting, the way one of Tarrantino’s heroes would, and laughs it off with his friends, the way the protagonist of a sitcom would. As for the poseurs? The guys who dress like pirates and don’t eat meat and hire a bunch of stunt doubles to look cool, sound cool, act cool? Next to Scott, their routine seems forced. Stale. Artificial. Presumably, they want Ramona to cement their status as the coolest guy from that period of her life. Presumably, Ramona is past the point in her life where cool matters, which is what makes Scott an attractive choice of boyfriend: He isn’t cool, and he doesn’t pretend to be.
Edgar Wright, who helmed the brilliant genre send-ups Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, simultaneously celebrates and takes the piss out of a generation raised by MTV and Game Boys by way of brilliant, colorful pastiche, veering from music video to romantic interlude to fight scene to Seinfeld, holding it together by moving at breakneck pace and not pausing to wonder at the details. It jumps from frame to frame like a comic book, capturing the most important moments and leaving the rest to imagination. The cast? Don’t worry about the cast. The cast is fine. Perfect. Unquestionable.
It is becoming exceedingly rare that movies this fresh, vibrant, and original are funded and produced by a Hollywood studio. Sadly, it is becoming even more rare that audiences, cowed by years and years of flavorless blockbuster movies, are willing to take a chance on something new and invigorating. Here is a movie that engages its audience, excites on all levels. If it doesn’t quite prove that video games are art, it proves that video games can at least inspire art. It goes ignored now, but once the dust has settled and 2010 is a distant memory, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World will find an audience that loves and appreciates it as much as it deserves. See Scott Pilgrim, America, then see it three more times. Consider it karma for the millions you’re going to shower on Transformers.
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. Directed by Edgar Wright. With Michael Cera (Scott Pilgrim), Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Ramona Flowers), Ellen Wong (Knives Chau), Alison Pill (Kim Pine), Mark Webber (Stephen Stills), Kieran Culken (Wallace Wells), Anna Kendrick (Stacey Pilgrim), Aubrey Plaza (Julie), Chris Evans (Lucas Lee), Brie Larson (Envy Adams), Brandon Routh (Todd Ingram), and Jason Schwartzman (Gideon). Released August 13, 2010, by Universal Pictures.
Paul Arrand Rodgers
Paul Arrand Rodgers has this blog, and that's about it.