Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Scott Pilgim Vs. The World

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is awesome, which begs the questions, as raised by Stephanie Zacharek in her negative review of Inception, if that is enough? A better response may be: so what? In the grand scheme of film and culture and art, does awesome really amount to anything but a two hour confectionery that, like lightening, strikes with swift brilliant force and then is gone? It’s maybe the very problem that gnaws at all classical minded film critics as they forge on into the future. I guess, if we are to rate Scott Pilgrim in a vacuum, sealed off from the last hundred, or even ten, years of film history, the answer is that yes indeed, it’s awesomeness is truly enough. That of course is so under the realization that if most, if not all, films are becoming no more than flashes of noise and colour than they might as well at least strive to be hip and funny and hurdle images at the screen that are just a little unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. So, there you go. The story revolves around Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) a geeky bass player from Toronto who has just hooked up with a 17 year old Asian girl, Knives Chau, who also doubles as Pilgrim’s number one fan. His band is called Sex Bah Bomb and they play local gigs hoping that there will be at least one non-band member in attendance that hopes they won’t suck. Then Scott lays eyes on the Technicolor haired Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and it's love at first sight. He constantly dreams about her, stalks her at parties, ignores Knives who is so infatuated that she hardly notices, and orders packages on Amazon just to fill the waste basket when he finds out she’s the delivery girl. Eventually, Ramona agrees to go out with Scott but he soon finds that there’s a catch. She moved to Toronto from the U.S. in order to escape her past and rediscover herself. As it turns out, she is running from seven evil exes who have all teamed together into one league in order to fight Scott Pilgrim to the death. This makes up most of the body of the film despite the fact that a fight to the death is a fight to the death and an evil ex is an evil ex and once you’ve seen two or three you’ve seen about as many as you probably will ever need to. The story isn’t a whole lot more complex than that. What makes it interesting is that its director Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) takes great, excessive pains in order to make this material actually feel like an old arcade game or a graphic novel. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, like Speed Racer before it, is one of the few films that know how to use special effects for all they are worth, creating, not so much a film, as, for better or worse, an experience that completely immerses you in the spell of it's unique worldview. Scott Pilgrim is a lot of things. Boring it is not. If there’s any problem, it’s that Wright does too good of a job. He spends so much time on visual details: the split screens, the accompanying words that go with sounds like the phone ringing or the door knocking, the video game aesthetics, the bright lights and so on, that he kind of forgets to do anything with the material going on underneath. Thankfully Wright is in the company of good stars who manage to make the material funny and sweet and give it a bit of a human element that can at least propel it for two hours. Michael Cera does his typical loveable goofball routine; Winstead is perky and cute while still always being one of those girls who can never quite be trusted to still be there the next day; Kieran Culkin makes deadpan out of Scott’s gay roommate and gets away with it; and Anna Kendrick shows up for a few scenes of quirky, fast talking funny business. But a film like this doesn’t exist as its parts. It’s a whole package that you either let in or reject outright. It’s so busy that it doesn’t have much time for character or plot, but what a lightshow it provides. In the end, Wright has a good eye for visual comedy and Cera is as endearing a presence as any, but the film ultimately rises and falls on just how spectacular and inventive it can be. It is spectacular. It is inventive. It’s also like nothing you’ve probably ever seen. Sometimes, that’s all it takes.


  1. Wouldn't it be cool if, twenty years from now, Michael Cera reemerged from an acting hiatus as a multi-accented, mustachioed action lead?

    Loved this movie. It spoke to my latent need to look deadly epileptic seizures in the face and laugh.

  2. Heh. (Simon's comment)

    Anyways, I don't agree with you that, like "Speed-Racer," this is an empty confection. It's one of the few relationship comedies (or dramas) of the last few years that cuts through the facile love-romp crap we've been enduring, and actually says something about being in a (ya know?) real relationship. Like Zacharek, I don't think it is enough to be flash and sparks, there has to be SOME-thing there that speaks to the viewer and penetrates, rather than washing over them. In my review of "Pilgrim," (today), I say that moviews are like envelopes, and you can have the best looking one around, but if there's nothing inside...all you've got is a nice looking envelope. And hopefully, the style and flash of a movie reflects its subject matter...which "Scott Pilgrim" actually does.

    This is a great one. I love what it says and I love how it says it.

  3. Yobjimo - ya, heh

    My test is that, if you stripped all of the aesthetic stuff away what would you be left with and the answer is, in this case, I think, an idea for a good John Hughes comedy in it's infant stages. I'm not saying that there isn't something here, there certainly is enough humor and sweetness to keep it going and engaging on a human level but when it comes down to it, priority one is creating this comic book/video game style, without which the movie may be indistinguishable. Maybe less evil exes and even more human interest would have done the trick.

  4. I'm looking forward to this. Edgar Wright has impressed me before.

  5. Chris - I've liked both of Wright's former movies without ever loving them. In both cases, especially in Hot Fuzz, I found the violence so excessive for a comedy that it kind of turned me off.