A time-displaced soldier. A Norse god. A playboy billionaire genius. A brilliant scientist who turns into a raging monster when angry. A former Russian spy. An expert marksman. On paper, a team comprised of six individuals this vastly different shouldn’t work. There are egos to deal with, competitive urges, the occasional extinction-level event. Since 1963, the Avengers have walked the very fine line between being Earth’s Mightiest Heroes and Earth’s Largest Screw-Ups. All it took back then was an assortment of popular comic book characters and the retrospectively brilliant idea of bringing a World War II era hero back from the publishing grave. In 2012, to get The Avengers together under the auspices of one movie took a more herculean effort: Five good-to-great movies serving as pretense, an assemblage of the right actors playing the right characters, and the right director at the helm of so much potential chaos. Read more
It’s really hard to even begin a review of a movie like What’s Your Number? without selfishly floating a few things out there, so bear this in mind as I try to figure out what, exactly, I saw:
- As a man in a household consisting of myself, a sister, and a mother, I’ve seen a ton of romantic comedies. I was practically raised on a diet of Audrey Hepburn and John Hughes, so I’d like to think that I know what works, what’s funny, and what’s romantic. I consider myself not dude-at-a-chickflick, but an unbiased judge of these things.
- As a frequent grocery shopper, I often catch glimpse of magazines like Cosmopolitan and Marie Claire, the former being the magazine with the article that is the crux of this film. Other than learning a few overly-complicated methods to the male orgasm (hasn’t friction worked for centuries?), I’ve learned that a good amount of the magazine publishing industry relies on making women feel insecure about their looks, their weight, and how many men they have or haven’t slept with.
- As a human being, I can’t help but be sad (and a little angry) about how much money our society pumps into these industries. It seems like every other romantic comedy is an artless slice-of-”life” debating the merits of one relationship crisis article or another. He’s just not that into you? You’ve worn twenty-seven bridesmaids dresses but have yet to be the bride? You’ve slept with twenty dudes? Whatever. There are well over six billion people out there. Twenty isn’t a fraction; it’s a crumb.
But our biological clocks are ticking from the moment of conception, so I suppose it’s not all that unreasonable to feel pressure/begin panicking when, on the eve of thirty, no significant headway has been made towards our mutual goal of not dying alone. This, I suppose, is why I’m supposed to feel sympathy for the plight of Ally Darling (Anna Feris), the woman who has slept with twenty dudes and who is freaked out about the Marie Claire article (researched by a Harvard doctor, no less!) that says she’ll never find happiness.
This, of course, is absolute crap, but go along with it for a bit. In an effort to find her one true love, Ally decides to put off everything, including her sister’s (Ari Graynor) wedding, to track down her twenty ex-loves. Because a woman can’t be expected to do these things on her own, she turns to her neighbor Colin (Chris Evans) who, as the movie has it, knows how to find people. Of course, some people are right out. Colin, for one, since he’s a womanizer and would put her over her number. Julie, a girl she slept with in college, because she’s a dude now. Gerry, a puppeteer, because puppeteers are probably more interesting than divorced guys and Miami gynecologists. She’s really hoping to settle for two options, though: A Senate hopeful (Anthony Mackie) and the son of an incredibly rich guy (Dave Annable), neither of whom question her motives for looking them up again some 5 or 15 years after their last contact. Naturally, the one who’s right for her is right under her nose, having sex with every woman in Boston. Naturally, he comes to realize that she’s the only woman he’ll ever need to have sex with again.
I’d feel bad about spoiling the end of the movie were it not a bastardization of the same ol’, same ol’. The film’s every element is predictable. For example, if I told you that the black senatorial candidate was a Republican, would you be able to guess his sexual orientation? If I said that Ally had a “weird” hobby, would you guess which smokin’ hot bro suggests she make it her career? If I told you that the events of the film surround the wedding of her sister, would you be able to guess which character would grab a fretting Ally by the shoulders on that day to say “Go to him?”
If you can (heck, even if you can’t), it’s probably obvious that Ally’s not a person worth your interest. To the point, she seems like a terrible person, oddly infatuated with the idea of snatching money and power without earning either, to the point that she makes her sister’s wedding about her. None of this would be a problem were the situations comic in nature, but the movie can’t, at any point, decide if Ally is somebody we should be rooting for or somebody we should hate for being a slut, and Anna Ferris, once tabbed as one of the funniest women in Hollywood, can’t make anything about her stick. In a way, the movie’s funniest moment is when Ally’s father tells her to be herself. If she really followed through on that advice, she’d be a gibbering collection of lies she’s told men so she’d get laid.
But getting laid, as every romantic comedy would have you know, is terrible unless it’s with one partner, for the rest of your life. Last night at a Waffle House, I wound up having a conversation with the waitress about this movie. She was pretty drunk during it and couldn’t remember much, but she said “There was nothing wrong with her [Ferris]. A number’s a number. You should own it.” Her number was one. At this, the restaurant Awwwwed. Maybe someday romantic comedies will go back to being about nice women like the waitress at Waffle House, who fall in love with nice people and whose lives are complicated by more than magazine-issue stereotype. Until then, we’ll always have the rom-com slut. We’ll always have our insatiable appetite for slutshaming.
What’s Your Number? Directed by Mark Mylod. With Anna Faris (Ally Darling), Chris Evans (Colin Shea), Ari Graynor (Daisy Darling), Joel McHale (Roger), Blythe Danner (Ms. Darling), Andy Samberg (Gerry Perry), Anthony Mackie (Tom Piper), Dave Annable (Jack Adams), and Aziz Ansari (Jay). Released on September 30, 2011, by 20th Century Fox.
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.