Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is hard to figure out. It is a frenetic blend of DDR, indie-rock music, Atari & Nintendo, romance, garlic bread, Guitar Hero, dead-pan humor, emoticons, Mortal Kombat, radical hair dye, homosexual jokes and gags, Super Mario, bass guitar solos, Samurai swords, Crosby/Stills/Nash & Young references and plenty of theories about pain, separation, loneliness and angst – teenage or otherwise.
Also, Scott Pilgrim, – the man – is hard to figure out. Perhaps man is a mis-characterization. Scott (Michael Cera) is 24, so he may not be a man just yet, but he’s not quite a kid either. Much is made of the fact that he is dating a 17 year-old chinese high-schooler named Knives Chau (played to perfection by Ellen Wong) and he lives apparently rent-free with his gay best friend, Wallace (Kieran Culkin). Scott also is admittedly “between jobs” and spends his free time as the bass player for an unheard of band called Sex Bob-Omb. In other words, Scott is a slacker. Plus, he’s never completely healed from a harsh break-up, though he seems to be on the road to recovery until he glimpses Ramona Flowers.
Ramona (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is a mysterious, compulsive hair-coloring hipster with a poker face and a murky past. But Scott isn’t just intrigued by her hair; she appeared in his dreams before he’s ever even met her in person. Though he can’t put his finger on it, there is just something about Ramona that causes Scott to pursue her, even against the advice of his friends. That is all before he discovers her baggage: her 7 evil exes must be defeated in battle – Street Fighter style – before he can have a chance to win her heart. Is Scott, the lovable loser, up for the challenge?
The plot moves at break-neck pace with characters literally walking through self standing doors that lead into other times of the day, other days of the week and other locations altogether. The film darts from scene to scene, relying on almost constant dialogue and filling in the details with bright and shiny informational graphics. From a visual representation of a ringing phone (an animated “RRRRRIIIIIINNNNNGGGGGG” covers the screen) to a “pee bar” that empties while Scott is in the bathroom, the film feels every bit like a comic book – no surprise given that it is adapted from a graphic novel written by Bryan Lee O’Malley. Director Edgar Wright is a master of eccentricity in his own right but adding cinematographer Bill Pope (The Matrix, Spiderman) and his highly stylized action sequences is like adding 5 Hour Energy to your triple-shot mocha latte. Wright approaches the term “a picture is worth a thousand words” with sincerity but he never edits out the “thousand words” part. The dialogue and visuals work together in tandem, insuring that the A.D.D. crowd will leave the theater with a headache, though some of us regular folk will probably do the same.
What keeps this movie on point is Michael Cera, who plays Scott with the same ambivalence turned obsession that he has played in Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist and Superbad. For those that have come to love his geeky, everyman idiosyncrasies, be warned: Scott Pilgrim is a script packed with Cera-isms. This isn’t Cera stepping out of the box as he did in Youth In Revolt earlier this year, but it is his best role for displaying a character that audiences have come to know. Unoriginal perhaps, but recognizable and instantly likable nonetheless. I also think Cera strikes a chord because he IS socially awkward. Most of us mumble and say the wrong things out loud and struggle with feelings of lonliness. Cera represents that awkwardness so well he has become an anti-hero of our generation of actors.
The other characters in the film are excellent as well, with small roles from Brandon Routh (Superman), Chris Evans (Fantastic Four, The Avengers) and Jason Schwartzman (Rushmore, The Darjeeling Limited) being the standouts. The only misfit is Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Scott’s dream girl, both literally and figuratively. Ramona is neither dreamy nor intriguing. In fact, she’s such a tight book that it seems unreasonable that Scott should even want to open her. She doesn’t want to talk about her past and she can’t explain why she has or had feelings for anyone at all. If Scott’s life is a pool of uncertainty, Ramona’s is an ocean. For me, why Scott gives chase to Ramona is more mysterious than her character is.
I did have another negative sentiment. I found the homosexual humor out of place with the rest of the film. Most of it derives from Scott’s gay roommate, Wallace. Scott and Wallace are likely life-long friends, and it is presented as logical that they should room together. But that’s not all. Scott and Wallace also share the same bed. This is played out for laughs throughout the film, but it goes from funny to icky when Wallace starts bringing partners home with him, who now also share a bed with Scott. Wallace as a character helps Scott sort out his feelings for Ramona when Scott doesn’t know what to feel or think, but otherwise has little value other than awkward humor. Another scenario involves Scott in battle with one of Ramona’s exes who happens to be a woman. Scott looks at Ramona in disbelief, to which she replies “it was just a phase.” Is that not an offensive statement towards homosexuals, implying that their sexual orientation can be boiled down to a feeling at a certain point in life that may eventually go away? Also, I thought that presenting gay characters as overtly promiscuous was a thing of the past. It just seemed to me that the gay characters were only present for shock value, and were generally out of place with the rest of the film
Nevertheless, the positives easily outweigh the negatives. It is a bold and original film that had me laughing from start to finish. Wright, who spoofed the zombie and buddy-cop genres to perfection with Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz respectively, has again filled the screen with so much video game cliché and kitsch (in a good way) that even the most immersed, joy-stick holding fan-boy can’t help but be wowed by the sheer audacity of it all.
I give this film 4.5 out of 5 stars.
*Note: This film is rated PG-13 for language and sexual content, most of which involves homosexual themes. While there is nothing explicit, it pushes the limits of the rating and parents of teens should be discerning.