Mostly in lesbians with Scott Pilgrim
by Molly Templeton
SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD: Directed by Edgar Wright. Written by Wright and Michael Bacall, based on the comics by Bryan Lee O’Malley. Cinematography, Bill Pope. Editors, Jonathan Amos and Paul Machliss. Music, Nigel Godrich. Starring Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Alison Pill, Ellen Wong, Mark Webber, Kieran Culkin and Jason Schwartzman. Universal Pictures, 2010. PG-13. 112 minutes.
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World begins with the Universal logo depicted as if it were the start screen for a 1980s video game. The quest begins! The theme music: The Legend of Zelda. The companions: the roommate, the sister, the band (the perfectly named Sex Bob-Omb). The setting: Toronto. The goal: fight seven evil exes for the heart of Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), an Amazon.ca delivery rollerblader. Our hero: Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera), slacker bass player and generally self-absorbed dude.
It’s part of the odd charm of Scott Pilgrim — Bryan Lee O’Malley’s six-book comic series and the film — that Scott’s kind of a dick and kind of an idiot. He adores Ramona because he dreamt about her; he’s mentally whittled all his former relationships down to tiny pieces of the past with varying accuracy. Scott’s character growth is just enough to get him to the next level (and maybe, eventually, snap out of it a little).
Scott Pilgrim is the best video-game movie yet, and it’s not based on a video game. Elements of The Legend of Zelda, Street Fighter and Dance Dance Revolution spike the plot, which envisions emotionally dealing with your love interest’s past as a series of actual battles with her exes. Enemies explode into coins! You earn more powers! Sometimes you have to trick the bad guys into drinking half and half instead of soy milk!
And then there are girls. Which, somewhat naturally, is where Pilgrim glitches a bit. Ramona Flowers has cute hair, a dry way with words and not a lot of personality, and the film doesn’t exactly know what to do with her, especially in the final battle. It fares better with Knives Chau (Ellen Wong), who at the start is Scott’s fake high school girlfriend. They hang out and talk about yearbook club and The Clash at Demonhead, Knives’ favorite band, which just happens to be fronted by Scott’s own evil ex, Envy Adams (Brie Larson). Scott’s got, to borrow a line from Buffy, the emotional maturity of a blueberry scone; Knives is actually too good for him. Scott Pilgrim is, among other things, the process of both of them figuring that out. Wong is a delight as the endlessly enthusiastic and hysterically heartbroken Knives, and she gets the best musical cue in a movie full of them: Broken Social Scene’s “Anthems for a Seventeen-Year-Old Girl” has never sounded better, or more bittersweet.
As in every video game I’ve gotten around to beating, the scene that comes after the final battle — y’know, once Link and Zelda finally get to hang out — is far less interesting than the process of getting there. It’s a manic, candy-colored, giddy, wry, funny journey; the destination matters not. Scott’s the figure Wright is steering through the film, exploring the levels (a series of clubs), the enemies (which include Chris Evans as skateboarder-turned-actor Lucas Lee and a scenery-gnawing Brandon Routh as evil vegan Todd Ingram) and the other characters, who have more notable but still shorthand personalities. Cera’s perfectly well cast for this, though I miss the manic side of book-Scott.
Pilgrim speaks a language that isn’t decipherable to everyone, and it’s unabashed in its specificity. This is precisely what makes it work: It’s not trying to be universally appealing. Scott isn’t a comics archetype or a superhero icon; he’s a lazy 22-year-old who plays bass and mooches off his cool roommate, Wallace Wells (Kieran Culkin), in between going to crappy parties (“At least it’ll give us something to complain about,” says Sex Bob-Omb drummer Kim Pine on the way to one). Everything either rules or sucks, and the only notable parts of life are band practice, moping, parties and dates.
What Scott Pilgrim effectively, inventively and wholeheartedly conjures up is the way a brain steeped in decades of videogame culture, indie bands and John Hughes movies relates to the world, piecing it together in a shorthand of sound effects, snappy comebacks (and failures to come up with snappy comebacks), dream sequences, sitcom references and, maybe, a wish that certain levels could be overcome with a flaming sword and an unexpected ally. Pilgrim sweetly knits together the elements of a generation’s peculiar digital mythology, finding — and filming — a fantastically worthy quest in scraps of Nintendo cartridges, ringer tees and stumbling uncertainty. Everybody wins.