Beyond raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, some of my other favorite things include comic books, video games and rock and roll music. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is a comic book adaptation that encompasses all of the above in a fairly entertaining yet experimental way and I must admit that I am ashamed that I didn’t even know this franchise existed before news of the motion picture first surfaced. Taking place in a completely surreal reality lays the downtrodden life of one Scott Pilgrim, a slacker bassist for a garage band that has high hopes but is going nowhere fast.
Of course, making it in the business is not the focus of the plot. Scott needs to get some play and his love life has transformed into one of those kiddy merry-go-rounds powered by quarters that you only find in rundown malls. Conveniently, Scott meets the girl of his dreams, despite not knowing anything about her, and is willing to risk life and limb in pursuit of her affections.
This film is an interesting commentary on how young people attempt to pursue serious relationships in this day and age. It is just so damn difficult to meet attractive people of quality and substance. Those whose dating prime have passed them have practically handed that responsibility over to Mr. Roboto over at eHarmony and websites of that ilk. The rest of us find ourselves entering relationship after relationship in a somewhat feudal effort at trial and error to get it right. As such, we have our former relationships, our exes, as a constant comparative reminder of what generally speaking does not work.
Ramona Flowers is the girl of Scott Pilgrim’s dreams and although they both share a robust history of failed relationships, Ramona’s history comes looking for blood, literally. Scott must engage in physical confrontations reminiscent of Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat in order to relinquish whatever mystique of apprehension that envelops Ramona, thus making her see Scott as a successful relationship and not another “evil” ex. In the real world, it sometimes feels that one is actually battling an ex-boyfriend or girlfriend during a relationship whenever small disagreements turn into big arguments and time reveals more sides to another’s personality that may rub us the wrong way. Despite the formality of past relationships having ended, there are always parts of those people that remain very attractive and, to some extent, hold us back in the same manner it does Ramona and Scott.
This is what is referred to as baggage and although taking this to the extreme is the comedic engine for this film, I find it very sexist that the movie portrays all the women as the exclusive carriers. Ramona’s exes do not suffer ill affects of any hang up they may have with her. Scott’s gay roommate, Wallace, is an admitted male whore who enjoys the fickle nature of all his relationships. Scott Pilgrim, our hero, is constantly ridiculed by his sister, his friends and his band for discarding girlfriends like tissue paper and he only learns the error of his ways until the lessons are gradually beat into him by ex after ex. And at the end of the day, the kind of epiphany that truly inspires individuals to see everyone we get involved with as opportunities rather than failures-in-waiting is what this film is constantly implying, but never ultimately delivers on the screen. This was disappointing, but then again, how much can one expect from a Michael Cera comedy?
I am content that Bryan Lee O’Malley, the originator of Scott Pilgrim, was involved with the screenplay, written by Michael Bacall and director Edgar Wright. This ensures that the original material is not totally bastardized by the Hollywood machine. These three were also responsible for composing the visual style of this film which was just as important as any written line of dialogue. For all intents and purposes, the visual style is a character itself because it is literally speaking to the audience specifically by adding redundancy to all of the sound effects in the film from the most guttural guitar riffs to the whimsical streams of pee going down the toilet. The visual effects were not always a positive talking point for this film because just past the midpoint, the visuals become a tad overbearing. And by a tad overbearing I mean hammering the audience into a daze so those who suffer from epilepsy, be forewarned.
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is an overall funhouse atmosphere of levity with an over-the-top portrayal of violence, slacker mentality and young adult angst. However, if the viewer has no interest in video games, manga and teeny-bop rock, this film is going to be a jagged little pill to swallow. The inside references to media entertainment are half the fun and the nostalgia the film evokes tends to cover up plot holes and character flatness. I would even go so far as to suggest that those who live and die by the genius of Superbad (2007) would simply “not get” Scott Pilgrim due to its acute target audience.
Before I get into the actors’ performances, I would just like to comment on the appeal of Michael Cera. There’s only one other actor that has made more of a career out of simply being him or herself in every movie and in every role that they play and that is Ms. Jennifer Aniston. That’s not a direct criticism, but kind of a round about way of saying these people have found a way to redefine, or rather re-solidify the definition of “type cast” and “character actor.” Fifty percent of Cera’s comedic appeal comes from the roles he is selected to play: Really, Michael Cera as a caveman? Really, Michael Cera as a rocker? Really, Michael Cera as a chick magnet? Therein lies the genius behind the incessant wimpy-ness, the awkward delivery and the lack of bass to his voice (seriously, he is 22 years old, when is he going to drop a pair?). His star is so hot that he has already spawned a copycat: cue Jesse Eisenberg. I’ve got an idea for Hollywood “brass:” Cera and Eisenberg should get together to do a reboot of Schwarzenegger and DeVito’s Twins (1988 – the year of Cera’s birth) and give it the sub-title: Who’s the bigger B? I’m happy the guy is making tons of cash over this. Lord knows geeks across this country bow low at the altar of Cera, but I digress.
Despite everything I just mentioned above, Michael Cera does a fine job of “acting” the role of Scott Pilgrim. Sure, it takes the audience a while to buy into his lady’s man appeal, but then the first salvo of “POWs” and “BOOMs” flash across the screen and we are reminded of the cartoonish nature of this tale. Cera, once again, taps into his boyish charm to evoke the nerdy version of everyman’s appeal. One major aspect of his performances that I feel is severely taken for granted is his ability to establish his own quirky sense of chemistry with his cast mates. It pays off with great comedic timing on the screen, which must be a testament to his own dedication to rehearsal, hitting his marks and learning to work with his acting brethren and not against them. These are all the types of things that a young actor of his popularity and success has a tendency to jettison and turn into a complete asshole (see: Lindsay Lohan). Michael Cera does a fine job at being Michael Cera which means above all else, he coerces the audience to care about his character and want him to succeed.
The rest of the cast is riddled with A-list talent, but there is simply not enough screen time or dialogue to allow some meat to fill out their respective characters. Ellen Wong playing the role of Knives Chau is quite priceless in her portrayal of obsessive fan girl and unofficial president of the Scott Pilgrim fan club. I give a solid thumbs-up to Kieran Culkin as Scott’s gay roommate, Wallace. We are so inundated with unrelentingly flaming depictions of homosexuality in comedies that it was a fresh change of pace to see him tone this vibe down because his character also provides the role of Scott’s conscious. And really, would anyone buy relationship advice from Jack of Will and Grace? I’ll also give the nod to Brandon Routh and Chris Evans for poking fun at their own tough-guy/pretty-boy appeal as two of Ramona’s evil exes. As long as these men are not required to helm a comedy franchise, they pull off supporting comedic roles quite comfortably, maybe a little too comfortably. Let’s just hope that both men buck up on their serious acting chops for a possible Superman sequel and the Captain America films, respectively. In addition, Jason Schwartzman playing the big bad, Gideon, is not quite as appealing as Max Fischer in Rushmore (1998), but still wields his own patented ego-maniacal form of comedy to present Scott with an antagonist he cannot simply say “whatever” to, in order to brush him aside. I would still love to see this guy completely sever the umbilical cord to Wes Anderson.
This leaves us with Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Ramona Flowers. Getting the obvious out of the way: yes, she’s attractive, not Megan Fox hot but definitely on the doorstep. She is a good actress, but does not give great performances. Part of the problem is the role itself. Ramona is a nice girl, deep down, but her issues with men have obviously jaded her into forming a semi permeable, anti-social cocoon around her, thus making her personality as dry as the Sahara. Other than her looks, I cannot understand why the character of Scott Pilgrim is so overtly attracted to her and their relationship does not improve as the film goes on. This is a serious gap in the plot and a deficiency in the Ramona Flowers character, both of which may be addressed in the comic book, but not in this film. She has good chemistry with Cera on the screen, but he carries her. Ramona ought to be a rounder character to help the audience understand her motives better, but also to help us understand the main character better. Ms. Winstead’s performance was droll and boring because her character is flat and predictable. Or is that vice-versa?
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is a fun adventure filled with digital effects, video game references, slacker appeal and plenty of Michael Cera doing-what-he-does. If you do not like anything I just said, then this film will be a waste of life. I love how this film wastes no time getting you into this fictional reality with the 8-Bit rendition of the Universal Pictures theme song (now, a ring tone for yours truly). The effects were good, the fighting choreography could have been much better and the music could have shown a little more variety. For instance, it would have been nice to hear “boss music” during the specific show-downs against all the evil exes. Loving Michael Cera is by no means a sin, but it will certainly help viewing this film tenfold.