Scott Pilgrim vs. the World,
directed by Edgar Wright
(Universal, 2010)

I refuse to believe that this energetic, entertaining film, which did not get much attention at the box office but which is destined to become a cult classic, is only for teenage gamers who love garage-band punk. This adorable movie, based on Scott Lee O'Malley's acclaimed comic-book series, is for anyone who likes love stories told in a very new way.

Yes, it's a combination of Mortal Kombat-like games and incredibly loud, thumping music that takes some getting used to. Yes, it has Michael Cera in it, star of many independently made films and the apparent poster child for geeky, self-conflicted tweeners in crisis. But an awful lot of heart went into making this clever, imaginative movie that really has nothing gimmicky going on with it at all. For all its intense, eye-popping graphics and teenage angst, it's a quite sincere, and very engaging, action-comedy.

The premise is fairly simple: 22-year-old college graduate and Toronto native Scott Pilgrim (Cera), who shares a flat with his gay friend, Wallace (Kieran Culkin), and plays in a band with Stephen (Mark Webber) and ex-girlfriend-but-still-good-pal Kim (Allison Pill), falls in love with fuscia-haired Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). In order to win her heart, he has to do two things: break up with the 17-year-old girl he's already dating (Ellen Wong) and defeat Ramona's seven evil exes.

Yes, he's dating a younger woman that he cares for but is not in love with. And yes, it's "exes," not just "boyfriends." Let's just say that Ramona has had an active dating life.

If it seems like Scott's a little bit of an idiot who gets his life tangled up very easily, try and remember what being 22 and fresh out of college was like. Although this movie is aimed squarely at the younger crowd, anyone whose brain cells haven't completely fuzzed over with concern about national unemployment and mortgage rates will find themselves taking a short, sharp trip down memory lane through one video-game montage after another as Scott takes on all seven of Ramona's evil exes in combat while trying to figure out if love is a state of mind or a state of being. Dating is never easy in any generation.

Although it's kind of hard to see what Scott finds so desirable about Ramona, whom Winstead plays as so cool and laid-back that she has almost no personality at all, and it likewise isn't easy to get excited about Scott Pilgrim because the way Cera plays him is the way he's played every character in every movie he's ever been in, the movie's palpable charm bulldozes past everything that could trip it up. Like the comic-book series, the movie is pretty revolutionary in the way it manages to marry video-game iconography with story narrative. Edgar Wright, of Shaun of the Dead fame, is pretty good with his pop-culture references, since all of his movies thus far are pop-culture homages. He's completely in his bailiwick in a movie that depends on a strict cohesion of romantic comedy and geek culture, though it isn't a savage parody of action films of recent decades like Hot Fuzz and Don't. This time around, it's more about the flawless hybridization of comic book panels with video game-based fight sequences.

The film's entire plot follows the parameters of video-game logic so neatly that you really do feel that you're inside Street Fighter. There's even enough character-driven action to keep the film interesting between action shots. It's a lot of indie-based quips and caustic tweener banter, but I've retained enough of my long-term memory to recall that when I was Scott's age, sarcasm was the language spoken by everyone in that demographic, being such a neat way of masking painful feelings and difficult, life-changing experiences. The movie also happens to be completely hilarious, taking what would be a rather boring, quite typical love story and jazzing it up with such innovative flair that even the slow parts will have you chuckling.

Fair warning: it's loud, very loud. The songs, including The Rolling Stones' "Under My Thumb," get the garage-band treatment, which means loads of bass and a bit of difficulty in telling one song from the next. But it's all part of the freshness of this very fun movie. Halfway through I turned my brain off and just got into having a good time with it, which I think is the best way to enjoy this quirky film. It's not challenging but it is fantastic, cute and definitely one of the most original movies you'll ever see.

review by
Mary Harvey

11 June 2011

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