CAPSULE: SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD (2010)

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World has been promoted onto the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies of All Time.  Comments on this initial review are closed. Please leave any comments about the movie on the official Certified Weird entry.

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Edgar Wright

FEATURING: Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Ellen Wong, Jason Schwartzman

PLOT: Slacker bassist Scott Pilgrim must defeat seven evil exes in order to win the girl of his dreams.

Still from Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  An alternate reality comedy that at times feels like something Monty Python would have come up with if they’d been raised on video games and graphic novels instead of “The Goon Show” and Oscar Wilde, Scott Pilgrim has substantial cult movie potential.  The movie dispenses with logic scene by fractured scene, but probably its weirdest joke is casting Michael Cera as an action hero.  It’s shiny surface sheen is fascinating, but at heart it’s a conventional coming-of-age tale for the PlayStation set; despite it’s comic leaps of illogic, it’s weird-ish, at best.

COMMENTS:  With its role-playing game quest to defeat seven escalating opponents (right up to the final “boss” battle) and it’s onscreen scoring system (defeated enemies turn into piles of coins as a digital score rises from their corpses), Scott Pilgrim becomes the first film in history to use the video game as a metaphor for growing up.  The movie milks maximum mileage from this conceit: when Scott goes to the bathroom, we watch a pop-up pee meter go from full to empty so we can stay informed on the condition of his bladder.  The viewer is stuffed inside a video game console, treated to constant text updates on the characters’ status.  But even beyond that basic technique, director Edgar Wright piles on the artificiality and stylization whenever an idea crosses his mind: multicolored valentines bloom from young lovers locked lips at first kiss, 1960s Batman-style “KAPOWS!” accompany fight scenes, and when a character’s profanity is bleeped out on the soundtrack a black bar also appears over her mouth.  The bent humor sports a pop-absurdist tone; this is the only movies where a villain sets up a duel to the death by email, then brings his own Bollywood backup singers to the fight.  Sometimes Wright’s choices become overly referential and fall flat, as when one expository scene is announced by the “Seinfeld” theme song, but you have to admire his willingness to try absolutely anything, and there are more hits than misses in the mix.  The film moves almost too fast at times, with dream scenes emerging back into reality with no warning (there’s little difference between the two states anyway), and jarring leaps forward in time.  But Wright embraces the short-attention span aesthetic and makes one of the cornerstones of the film; it’s neither a satirical jab at youth culture nor an unconscious adoption of its rhythms, but a stylistic choice that works in the context of the zeitgeist he’s trying to evoke.  The fast-cut style is also necessary to fit in all the film’s teeming ideas:  Scott Pilgrim is delightfully overstuffed, a real bargain for your matinee dollar.  There are six big, comic fight scenes, multiple romantic subplots and back stories,  a Battle of the Bands, and so many quirky supporting characters you almost need a scorecard to keep up.  Besides everyboy Pilgrim, there’s cool love interest Ramona Flowers (whose shifting dye jobs call to mind Kate Winslett’s Clementine in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), jailbait romantic rival Knives Chow, wisecracking gay roommate Wallace Wells, Scott’s band-mates in the awkwardly named “Sex Bob-omb,” evil exes who’ve become Hollywood action stars or Vegan bass players… and even with that list I’ve still omitted somebody‘s favorite of the dozens of significant characters.  The film is anarchic and ramshackle in spirit, but it’s actually tightly controlled and easy to follow and connect with.  With it’s ADD edits, it’s geeky embrace of everything pop culture and willful ignorance of any other type of culture, and its amiable twenty-somethings who act like John Hughes’ teenagers of an earlier era, Scott Pilgrim suggests either that the onset of adulthood is slipping ever closer to 30, or that the film is aimed at a demographic aged much younger than its protagonists.  I prefer to believe the latter; and, like the aforementioned Mr. Hughes’ film, the movie’s innocence about love and the easy answers about life’s big lessons creates a nostalgic crossover appeal for adults, even if they don’t get every NES video game system reference.

Edgar Wright’s previous two films were cultish genre spoofs: the zombie film parody Shaun of the Dead and the cop burlesque Hot FuzzScott Pilgrim sees Wright stretching his talents with a far more baroque, but equally hilarious, approach.  With Scott Pilgrim Wright’s no longer exaggerating the conventions of an existing genres to ridiculous lengths; he’s inventing an entirely new genre.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“The style is Sega surrealism, the narrative strategy 30% Bunuel and 70% Bally.”–Andy Klein, Brand X Daily (contemporaneous)

2 thoughts on “CAPSULE: SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD (2010)”

  1. i guess this movie will be a surprise just like Kick ass was or Youth in revolt were, i like the analogy with Monty Python ;)

  2. When I saw a poster for this film of Michael Cera playing a Rickenbaker bass guitar I was completely uninterested in seeing the film. However, after talking to a few friends and reading this article, I may have to give it a chance.

Comments are closed.