Thursday, August 12, 2010

Love: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

I have been to the promised land, fellow Scott Pilgrim geeks, and the future is bright.  This Friday, Edgar Wright's (Shaun of the DeadHot Fuzz) much anticipated adaptation of Bryan Lee O'Malley's cult comic series will dance toe to toe with Julia Roberts and Sly Stallone to compete for the number one spot at the box office.  Let me pass on some free (and judgmental advice): if you're a person under the age of 30 and you throw down your dollars for anything before seeing Scott Pilgrim vs. the World this weekend, congratulations, you're an idiot.  Alright, alright, maybe not an idiot, but I just don't know if we can be friends.  There are a few reasons for this: 1. This is probably the most original film you're likely to see all summer (that's right, it's not Inception), 2. It's also pretty much the funniest film of the year thus far, 3. It's like a hybrid of a half dozen generational movies you already love,  4. It's shiny, bright, fast-paced, and cast exactly right.  EXACTLY right.  Scott Pilgrim is essentially the only character who doesn't look just like his drawn counterpart, but Michael Cera plays him so convincingly it doesn't even matter. 

If you do the math, Scott Pilgrim is about 90% perfect.  When I say perfect what I mean to say is that it's a killer combo of dead-on faithful to the graphic novels while still making for a relentlessly entertaining film in its own right.  Those who have read the books will relish seeing its characters brought into glorious, technicolor life; those who have no intention of ever picking up a comic book (shame on you, by the way) will appreciate it for its laugh out loud wit, cheery sentiment, and ADHD action sequences.  For the latter group, the 10% glitch is irrelevant, but we'll get to that later. 
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is a love story for the modern age.  Scott Pilgrim (Cera), our hero, is a 20-something slacker who shares a bed in a one room apartment with his gay roommate Wallace (Kieran Culkin), is embarrassing his bandmates by dating a 17-year old Chinese schoolgirl (Ellen Wong), and pining desperately after Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a mysterious American transplant with ever-changing hair.  What makes this story so different from so many pre-existing coming-of-age comedies is that it deftly blends the pop culture that so influences Scott Pilgrim's generation (read: my generation) back into the budding relationship.  Scott Pilgrim is a movie that's like a video game that's like a comic book that's all about rock music.  Scott's quest for Ramona and self-realization becomes a literal quest in which he must defeat Ramona's 7 Evil Exes to, in the context of the movie, be able to date her without peril.  The Exes, headed up by a particularly slimy Jason Schwartzman and featuring stand-out cameos by ex-Superman Brandon Routh and a particularly memorable Chris Evans, keep the film's pace at a functioning frenzy.  There are no lulls until the Boss Level, there are no cracks in the sugar rush veneer until the exact same point.
Scott Pilgrim is a sensory delight.  It's candy for the eye as well as the ear, with its dizzying array of neon glowing electric colors backed by a soundtrack chock full of original recordings by Metric, Beck, and a self-mocking Broken Social Scene.  I'd be hard pressed to believe that anyone could have done a better job than Edgar Wright.  Wright's specialty (typically alongside Simon Pegg) seems to be hacking up the rom-com, injecting it with adrenaline, infusing it with pop culture referential nerd humor and serving it to a mainstream audience without selling out the fanbase for a second.  What he did with zombies and Romero visual cues in Shaun of the Dead he manages here with Legend of Zelda and Street Fighter high-kick button mashing.  Scott Pilgrim is a zeitgeist film for those who hit their 20's in the early aughts.  It's a cartoonish John Hughes brat pack fueled by a natural-born adeptness at the mechanics of 8-bit life-snatching and dizzying high-caffeine, do everything-accomplish nothing fits of energy.  The writing remains thoroughly O'Malley's, often going frame for frame against the comic.  It's visually dazzling and phenomenally effective in its comedic timing.  There's some complicated editing to be found here.  Switching scene to scene and shot to shot in a way that's intuitive to the viewer's understanding of narrative instead of spastic.  Granted, I had the story down walking into the theater, but Scott Pilgrim vs. the World felt like an accessible, super-slick packaged good.

The one drawback?  That 10% that knocks the last half-heart from what could have easily been a 5-heart experience?  It's the ending.  Fans of the books will be disheartened to know that the movie's final scenes part ways with the sixth chapter.  The film's conclusion is less satisfying than the book.  It condenses quite a bit and halts some fairly significant development in the supporting cast of characters.  There's a reason for this, of course.  The series was not complete at the time the film was being shot.  Edgar Wright and crew were working off a general outline from Bryan Lee O'Malley with quite a bit of detail to be added later.  So, while there's no reason for nerd rage, we're left to look at the ending as its own entity.  Truth is?  It's a tad flat and a little rushed, losing much of the preceding 100 minutes' comedic momentum to arrive at a neatly wrapped up finishing point.  Really, after the gleeful ride, it becomes hard to care one way or another how it ends.  On the next viewing (and there will be another one), maybe my opinion will change.  Perhaps I'll accept the differences and take the cinematic vision as something of its own.  I'd have had no problem sitting in that theater for an additional hour, letting the subplots come to fruition and seeing Envy Adams become a more vital player.  Which is to say, if there were ever a film I'd love to see a re-shot, extended director's cut for, it's this one.   

2 comments:

  1. i cant believe this movie came in so low at the box office. people have no taste.

    ReplyDelete
  2. It's a cult classic in the making. Don't worry, it will be huge on DVD/Blu-Ray. Think Office Space huge.

    ReplyDelete

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