SCOTT PILGRIM VS THE WORLD, 2010
Cast: Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Kieran Culkin, Chris Evans, Anna Kendrick, Brandon Routh, Alison Pill, Jason Schwartzman
Layabout musician Scott Pilgrim (Cera) falls for the new girl in town, Ramona Flowers (Winstead), but in order to win her heart, he must defeat her seven evil ex-boyfriends.
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"Scott Pilgrim" will make your head explode. But in a good way, not with brains and stuff.
Edgar Wright's ("Shaun of the Dead") adaptation of Bryan O'Malley's super-hipster graphic novel is a striking mesh of existential meanderings of the early 20s--as we slough off the final vestige of youth--and a hallmark card to those vestiges. It's a film for one specific group of people and no one else, simultaneously fantastic and realistic, shallow and complicated.
Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) is your typical fictional slacker. He has no job, no prospects, and no visible means of supporting himself. This allows him the free time to amuse himself with whatever he can, mainly various girlfriends and his mediocre band, Sex Bob-omb. Into this world of quick cuts and slacker tropes comes Ramona (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), literally the girl of Scott's dreams, and he's going to have to change everything he knows to win her.
Wright has thrown up a film grammar entirely composed of videogames, with just a hint of comic book mash up to create a hyperactive world of light and sound where every transition starts with box telling you ELSEWHERE, and the word RING is spelled out whenever a phone does. They symbolic movement of the plot and characters is all spelled out in videogame-ese with boss battles and extra lives.
And Scott's going to need all the extra lives he can get, because it turns out Ramona's got issues, and her issues have fists. She's come to Toronto to get away from a string of bad break-ups, but they won't get away from her. No sooner does Scott make his intentions known than he learns the only way to have Ramona for himself is to battle his way through the League of Evil Exes, her seven evil exes devoted to making life miserable for anyone who tries to date Ramona.
Best of all, "Scott Pilgrim" makes absolutely no attempt to explain any of this to the audience or why it is the way it is. The nature of the film universe is fully visualized and the characters just go along with it in typical hipster nature. When an evil ex attacks Scott, it's only natural he should bust into some Hong Kong wire-fu and when said villain explodes into quarters on being defeated, the only note anyone makes is that it's not enough for bus fare. It's up to the audience to go along with this because "Scott Pilgrim" is going to pay you the respect of refusing to throw you a life line. It's swim or die.
That's mainly because Wright and screenwriter Michael Bacall realize that the people they're making this for will get it, because it's a love letter to the early-20s.
That means on the surface, and a lot on the inside, too, it's really shallow. Everyone is the star in the movie of their life and in your 20s this is what that movie looks like: overdone with all emotions set to 11 and no restraint. The unhappy aspects of the early part of life washed over by romanticism so that it comes out as if you would want to be living your life in a basement with no prospects in a never ending search for diversion. A world where there is a secret, hidden level the rest of us can't see filled with vegan super powers and Indian demon babes and, you know, stuff that really matters.
And the film knows it, dousing every inch of it an absurd, super dry sense of humor that you'll get or you won't (though I defy anyone not to laugh at the vegan police). And because it's a coming of age film, that ultimately forces Scott himself to realize that this fake world he has inhabited is coming to an end, that there are people outside of himself and he's treated them quite badly over the years.
Cera does his best in a role that is something of a coming of age for him as well. He's got to reasonably portray an adult asshole with a heart of gold, something he's only ever managed half of in most of his roles. The doofiness that was part of his charm on "Arrested Development" gets in the way a little of Scott's darker aspects. On the other hand the doofiness makes you want to cheer Scott on and Cera does keep getting better at the rest of it.
He's well supported by an excellent supporting cast, none of whom gets enough screen time since, like the character himself, "Scott Pilgrim" has a tendency to be self-centered. In some cases like best friend Wallace (Kieran Culkin) or scathing social climber Julie (Aubrey Plaza) this is good as they're not particularly deeply designed and what we get of him is exactly what we need. On the other hand, Scott's stand-in girlfriend Knives (Ellen Wong) is criminally underused and that's saying something for a character in so much of the film. But every time you see her you want to see more.
But the rest of the cast is just right, from the members of Scott's band to the evil exes themselves, they come fast and furious and leave just as quickly. They're ably aided by some eye-popping cinematography from Bill Pope ("The Matrix") and a visual look that will sear into your brain.
Yes, "Scott Pilgrim" is a film for twenty-something's. But it's also more than that, whether it realizes it or not. It's a movie about twenty-something's, a meta-examination of what it felt like to be that age, and what people that age want life to feel like. Yes, it's shallow, but look deeper, past the flash and the swords and the videogames. There's something there.