Sunday, September 19, 2010

Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World: A Review


The Girl Ain't Worth It...

Michael Cera has something in common with Matthew McConaughey (seriously): both have made a career out of playing basically the same character. With Cera, he hasn't done anything that strays from George Michael Bluth in Arrested Development. In fairness to him, he has attempted to vary the tune he plays with Youth In Revolt, but for the most part he's the eternal nerd, bumbling, insecure around women, meek, non-threatening and non-aggressive, whose only weapon is his wit (which even then he still stumbles through). Think Seth Cohen from The O.C. without any semblance of sex appeal. In fact, a love scene with Cera is almost unthinkable.

I guess he then would be the perfect person for the title role of Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, right down to the fact both Pilgrim and Cera are Canadian. The film is very conscious of what it is: a hybrid of the comic book series it was adapted from (by Michael Ball and director Edgar Wright from the Brian Lee O'Malley graphic novel series) along with a riff on video games that the target audience plays. Seeing as how I never read comic books as a child or teen and was forever banned after my one failed attempt at Halo, how would something like Scott Pilgrim appeal to me? Well...

Let me start by saying the title Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World is a bit of a misnomer because our eponymous hero doesn't actually fight the world entire, but more on that later.

Scott is a twenty-two year old slacker in a band, Sex Bob-Omb, with his friends Stephen Stills (Mark Webber) on lead guitar, a hanger-on named Young Neil (I figure an homage to a certain Canadian rock legend whose name escapes me) (Johnny Simmons), and morose drummer/Scott's ex Kim (Allison Pill). Scott has a new girlfriend, high schooler Knives Chau (Ellen Wong), although I'd argue she's more of a fan than a girlfriend. Scott's living his life, attempting to get Sex Bob-Omb to the success they deserve and trying to stay out of the way of his gay roommate Wallace (Kieran Culkin) and his shrewish sister Stacy (Anna Kendrick).

Then, one night, a vision appears in his dreams: a beautiful girl in roller skates. The next night, he sees this girl in the flesh. She is Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), and instantly he pursues her with ardor. At first Ramona is cool (or being Canada, cold) to his affections, but he wins her over with his geeky charm. Scott attempts to balance his passion for Ramona with his affection for Knives, but finds it too difficult and reluctantly breaks up with the latter.

All would be well with Scott if not for the fact that Ramona has a group of past relationships/lovers who apparently cannot let her go. They are the Seven Evil Exes, and Scott now must fight each one of them (there are a pair of twins he fights at the same time) so that Ramona can be his. It isn't as if he wasn't warned: he did get an e-mail telling him he would face the wrath of the Seven Evil Exes, and wouldn't you know it, when Sex Bob-Omb is in the first round of the Battle of the Bands the first Evil Ex appears: one Matthew Patel (Satya Bhabha), who gives us a fight in a pseudo Bollywood-style.

Scott then over the course of the film fights professional skater turned actor Lucas Lee (Chris Evans), vegan Todd Ingram (Brandon Routh) who is a band member of one of Scott's own exes, Roxy (Mae Whitman) from Ramona's 'bi-curious' phase, the techo due Katayanagi Twins (Keita & Shota Saitou) and the head of the League of Evil Exes, record executive Gideon Graves (Jason Schwartzman).

Scott Pilgrim knows the world it occupies, and visually director Edgar Wright gives the film the look of the comic books the film is based on, right down to seeing the word "ring" whenever a telephone rang and "thonk" when Scott beats his head against a pole. At times, Scott Pilgrim looks as if we were actually looking at the pages of a comic book. It also has the sounds and looks of a video game. Visually, it is what it set out to be. The problem is that you have to cram six graphic novels into one film, and even at nearly two hours I still felt as if I were watching a far longer film.

In terms of story and performance, I wondered why anyone would care about these people. As portrayed by Winstead, there is nothing interesting about Ramona. She's not especially beautiful, she's not witty, she's not short, she has nothing going for her except a sullen aloofness that is mistaken for mystery and perhaps hipness. In an odd sense, although Ramona is the catalyst for all the fighting, there is nothing about her that would inspire anyone to go after her, let alone have a titanic struggle to keep her from another man. In short, Garbo she ain't.

As for her Evil Exes, I kept wondering two things: 1.) why would they fight anyone willing to date her given she dumped them?, and 2.) did they have to fight each other beforehand? For example, did the twins have to fight the lesbian in order to date her? I don't know, and frankly I don't care. If you can't get the audience to care about the lead's struggle, you won't care how it turns out.

Now, I will compliment Evans' Jason Lee...I mean Lucas Lee (after all, what are the odds of having a comic book character named Lee who started out as a skateboarder and then became an actor?). It seems that Evans was playing a parody of himself, and with his gruff voice and lack of acting ability, he seems to have found the perfect a spoof of himself. Routh seemed to be channeling the anger he (in my mind, justifiably) has at being dumped as Superman. (Side note: I disliked the fact that Routh, who is the Third Evil Ex, had a Number 3 on his chest. Was that suppose to relate to his term as Superman also? Just a thought).

The other Evil Exes minus Schwartzman really had very little to nothing to do except show up to fight Scott, and even then, when Ramona filled us in on their backstory, you thought their "relationship" status was tenuous at best (Patel & Ramona I think kissed once. That does not an Ex make, but I digress).

Schwartzman is someone who I always want to go up and tell him, 'Son, you need a haircut'. In terms of Scott Pilgrim, I don't see how his character could be this all-powerful leader of the League or why he would create it in the first place. It might work in a comic book series, but in the film, I wondered what the point of all this fighting was about. If I go on to Wong, I would argue Knives isn't a girlfriend as much as she is just a fan of Sex Bomb-Omb, and a bit of an annoying stalker. I will say that Culkin was good as Wallace, who is so casual about his love life and about everything in general: he gets laughs when he so casually asks Scott to move out. I also did laugh when Roxy yells, "Bi-curious? Well, I'm bi-FURIOUS!" That was a good line.

Finally, let's go to Cera. I will say this for him: he did vary his typical Cera-type role with a new addition: he is now not just a nebbish, but a narcissistic nebbish. Scott Pilgrim is so remarkably oblivious to the damage he's done to all the girls he's dated (including dating both Knives and Ramona at the same time), but the fact that all these women would want to go out with someone who is both whiny and self-absorbed is a geek fantasy.

I figure that is a reason the Scott Pilgrim series is so popular with comic book readers: it allows them to live out their fantasies vicariously, about how they too can attract all sorts of women. Let us remember that at the climatic battle, it isn't just Scott and Gideon who fight, it's Knives and Ramona who also fight for Scott (in a sense). Throughout the film, I wondered how Scott could get A girl, let alone four: Kim, Knives, Ramona, and Envy Adams (Brie Larson) the girl he dated who did strike it big with her band. He's such a meek, bumbling little boy and a jerk to boot, so his appeal to all these women is a great mystery. Scott's whiny and insecure, but also a ladies man? No, even the outlandish premise of Scott Pilgrim can't hold that as a possibility.

On a personal note, I think it would have been better to have spread out the story into two or maybe even three films. The fights had a repetitive quality: although Scott appeared to be the only one to realize a bit late that he would have to fight all these people for Ramona the rest of us knew we'd have to sit through yet another video game.

The look of Scott Pilgrim was right on the money: it looked like a cross of a video game and comic book. However, I wondered why he would fight for a woman who wasn't interesting when he had a girl who was passionately devoted to him (although I wondered why she was devoted to someone who wasn't all that interested or interesting in return). I wondered why these Seven Evil Exes would want to fight anyone else for someone who had no interest in them.

The journey wasn't interesting, and neither was Scott Pilgrim Vs. Seven Annoying & Uninteresting People Obsessed With An Aloof and Disinterested Girl. In the end, whenever the screen asks, "Continue?", I kept saying "No".

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