Monday, August 23, 2010
The battle of Scott Pilgrim
Video games, hyper stylized comic book fantasy, hipster attitudes and primitive three cord rock make up the motif of talented director Edgar Wright's new feature Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, based on the popular graphic novels.
Michael Cera, the master of understated geeky awkwardness, is well cast as the titular hero, a Toronto lad, who despite his nerdy appearance, is able to attract cute young girls once they hear the music of his amateur garage band Sex-Ba-Bomb, who are competing in a battle of the bands that consists of only them and a band that seems to flaunt how terrible they are. Scott has been dumped by his latest girlfriend after she has transformed into an arrogant rising rock queen so he rebounds with a naive and cheery high school girl. But he meets the literal girl of his dreams in Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) a sharp tongued punk rock girl with an attitude and a constantly changing hair colour, but basically a sweet center. Once they begin to date, Scott is bombarded by constant duels challenged by her seven evil exes, which include a husky voiced action movie star, a vicious lesbian with quarterback face paint, a himbo vegan, two Asian DJs, and a pretenious young music executive.
This results in late 80s Nintendo inspired video game-fused-into-live action fight set pieces. No explanation or internal logic for the visual mayhem or instant superpower and might of the characters is provided. This is a movie universe in which once you are defeated in battle, you turn into a pile of coins. And since the movie is set in Canada, the remains of the loser are loonies and twonies.
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is a good natured and energetic comic fantasy that is perhaps too abundant in smart aleck hipsterism, although it does seem to satirize the hipster fashion and attitude in a subtle way. Overall the film really does have an endearing charm. The fight scenes being the center of the film are actually the least interesting aspect as they become way too routine too soon, although they are executed in an expert and rapidly hyperactive visual style resembling something out of Speed Racer and the 60s Batman TV series. The film is really carried by the pithy dialogue and rapid and engaging storytelling. One strong element is how Wright captures Toronto, deep in the winter, as a unique setting, especially in the sparse nighttime scenes in which the kinetic over the top visuals take a break for the scene in which Scott and Ramona click on their first date. The movie also nails how Generation Y make up their homes in tiny one or no bedroom apartments. Scott shares an apartment where as soon you as open the door you see a mattress on the floor that he has to share with his gay roomie (Kieran Culkin). Early in the film, titles appear on screen that inventory everything in the apartment ala the visual satire of Fight Club.
The characters are well drawn and funny and beneath their almost snarky sense of cool are insecure young adults yearning for some self esteem and good old fashioned love. Scott is on a journey that is really an internal battle for his self worth.
Ironically the corny aspects and not the eye candy help Scott Pilgrim work well as a film. Wright's earlier features Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz are more clever and inspired but Scott Pilgrim is good fun as a sly visual feast that's amiable and smart.