Film Review: Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

2010 – 112mn – 12A Directed by Edgar Wright. Starring Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Alison Pill, Kieran Culkin, Anna Kendrick, Chris Evans, Brandon Routh, Jason Schwartzman, Brie Larson, Ellen Wong.

SCOTT Pilgrim vs. The World is Edgar Wright’s first American feature, and it’s a doozy. The director of Spaced, Hot Fuzz, and Shaun of the Dead picked the perfect piece of material to make his Hollywood debut. Based on Bryan Lee O’Malley’s cult Canadian comic books, Scott Pilgrim vs The World is a witty, free-wheeling celebration of slackerdom, packed with references to arcade video games, Indie music bands, comic strips, and 90s sitcoms.

Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) is 22 years old and lives in Toronto. He doesn’t have a job, he lives in a tiny apartment – even platonically sharing a bed – with suave gay roommate Wallace Wells (Kieran Culkin), and plays bass in the garage band Sex Bob-Omb (they know they kind of suck, but still hope for a record deal). Scott falls in love with new girl on the block Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a roller-blading American delivery girl who’s just moved to Toronto. But he must fight – literally – and defeat her seven evil exes in order to date her.

There’s rarely been such a perfect coupling of filmmaker and material. Wright cleverly sticks close to his inventive source, and many scenes and shots in the film are exact replicas of their comic book counterpart. Scott Pilgrim is very similar to Spaced, with fast cuts, wipes, jump cuts, and visual gags crowding every other shot. It’s very hip stuff – sample character names: Knives Chau, Young Neil, Gideon Graves – and like Wright’s breakthrough TV series, it also packs tremendous heart.

The film is witty and funny, but also – surprisingly – a pretty good action film. For anyone outside of its target audience of young adult males, it might actually be too much of an action film. The whole second half of the movie is an almost unbroken sequence of over-the-top, video-game style fights between Scott and each of Ramona’s evil exes, who come to Toronto to kill him (the whole thing is a hip metaphor for the baggage people bring into relationships with them). The evil exes are great fun, from Chris Evans’s self-centered movie star to Brandon Routh’s holier-than-thou vegan musician and Jason Schwartzman’s smooth record producer. They’re all seemingly better than Scott, and this is the metaphorical burden he has to conquer – a young man’s natural and endless propensity to compare himself to every ex-boyfriend, every rival band, every more successful friend.

The fight scenes do get a tiny bit repetitive, especially when so much of what’s in between is so infectious and creative. The cast is terrific through and through. Michael Cera elevates his deadpan persona to a more likeable level than ever, and his Scott Pilgrim is a sweet, kind-natured dork who must tap into his inner hero. Mary Elizabeth Winstead handles the thankless role of the dream-girl-with-baggage with gusto, and her every gesture will remind you of the girl you fell in love with aged 20. Everyone else – from the main supporting cast to the actors who appear only once or twice – is just as great. The whole thing is played to a wicked soundtrack, and never pauses for a second.

On first viewing, the film is so breathless and vivid, so speedy and hyper, that it feels like fast-food, cool but empty. It’s a misleading first instinct. In the hours after seeing it, though, images and moments of it will pop into your brain. You’ll find yourself humming the tunes, and remembering youthful daydreams and crushes you thought you’d forgotten. The love story is what stays with you – the love story and the feel of those aimless days where music and that girl were your whole world and garlic bread the staple of every meal. Under all the noise and fracas, there’s a poetry to Wright’s film that steals its way into your soul.

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