Monday, August 23, 2010

Excess Baggage: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

"We probably can't make the 10 p.m. show."

It was Thursday night, and I was hanging out with a friend.  On impulse, he suggested we see Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, which he had already seen twice.  In the theatre.  Paying full price.  And he wanted to go again.

Up until this point, I was hesitant: anyone who's read my reviews of Away We Go  and (500) Days of Summer know that I hate being marketed to.  I also hate excess hype.  And having only been out a week or so, Scott Pilgrim had already delivered plenty of both.  I'm not a hipster per se, but I have hipster tendencies, plus several of my friends are into comics.  Did I mention that I'm also a little sick of Michael Cera?  Dude needs to play a serial killer on CSI or something.  Yes, I love director Edgar Wright, but I wasn't sure if that was enough to justify the movie-theatre price.

However, my friend is a tough critic (in fact, he was a big influence on me when I first met him in high school.  He also introduced me to MST3K, so there's that).  I'd had a stressful week at work.  It was Thursday, so I only had one more day to get through till the weekend.  And for the first time in days, I wasn't exhausted, and was up for a little movie-going adventure.

"We can try," I told my friend.  "Let's go!"

After a cab ride that was the stuff of wackiness (for you Chicagoans out there, our driver thought we meant Maple Street on the Gold Coast, not Maple Avenue in Evanston, so the ride involved a U-ie and a huge amount of the driver mumbling to himself) and a wonky credit-card machine, we made it to the theatre at exactly 10 p.m.  Amid a crowd of people our age or younger, we settled in and I wondered if I could get over the hipness, the hype, the Cera.

Yes, yes, and dammit Cera,  you totally won me over.  Again.

So Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is based on a comic book series, about a boy in a band who falls in love with a girl with a past.  Specifically, Ramona Flowers has seven evil exes that Scott must defeat before their relationship can progress any further.  But Scott's got a bit of a past himself, including an underage girlfriend, a bandmate he dumped in high school, and various other issues.  Will the right asses get kicked, or are Scott and Ramona doomed from the start?

First, the filmmaking rocks.  Even though I watch a bazillion movies, for me the actual camera work and effects are like the orchestra in a musical--I only notice if it's really, really good or really, really bad.  Scott Pilgrim keeps things fun without going too ADHD, with old-school style visuals (think bang!, riiiing!, hearts, and bright colors), nods to '80's video games that even I (for whom Nintendo was banned as a child) could recognize, and one particularly genius scene that's structured like an episode of Seinfeld.  Sure, there can be such a thing as too much pop culture, and Scott Pilgrim walks a fine line at times, but Wright knows just when to pull back.

Second, the characterization and performances are surprisingly strong.  Comic-book movies work best when the actors can, you know, act (think the Spider-Man films), and Wright's casting here was 99% spot on.  And yes, I'm including the Cera.  The boy was BORN to play Scott Pilgrim.  The insecurity, the mumbling, the dorky wit and the googly-eyed crushing are all vintage Cera, and it works so very, very well.  Possibly my favorite performance in the whole film, however, was Kieran Culkin as Scott's roommate Wallace.  Even in 2010, it's so rare to see a realistic portrayal of a gay guy--you know, one who isn't a mincing, swishy stereotype, and one who is actually seen with a boyfriend.

If you're a fan of Arrested Development, you're in luck: Mae Whitman (George Michael's girlfriend Ann, aka Her?) and Thomas Jane (Homeless Dad, who just wants his kids back) pop up in two unexpected and highly entertaining cameos.  And I know his tenure as The Next Big Thing didn't work out, but between this film and Zack and Miri Make a Porno, Brandon Routh needs to do more comedy. Plus, Mary Elizabeth Winstead strikes the right balance between dry and heartfelt as Ramona Flowers, and she's believable as a funky chick (as opposed to some Hollywood fake-tanned babe they "grunged down").  I really wish I could dye my hair those colors, and I totally want her cute pink thigh-highs with the black lace trim.

Overall, the ensemble's strong, with only two weak links:
1) Mark Webber who plays the lead singer in Scott's band, Sex Bob-omb, is quite whiny and doesn't bring much to the table.
2) Aubrey Plaza.  *sigh*  I realize I'm going to get raked over the coals for this, but: I am SICK of Aubrey Plaza.  Yes, she's fine in three-minute doses on Parks and Recreation, and the April/Andy storyline of last season was charming.  That said, I really don't understand why she's suddenly everywhere.  Wait, yes I do: all the hipster guys want to bang her.  Because seriously?  I too can roll my eyes and talk in a monotone, yet I don't have a recurring role on NBC and a host of talk-show appearances.  And Ms. Plaza?  Every single actress in this film (including Winstead, Anna Kendrick, and Alison Pill) did your deadpan schtick BETTER THAN YOU.  Because they know the wonders of nuance and depth.  You've got a ways to go, sweetie. /endrant

QUIRKY!  (Ugh.)

With any movie, usually creative camera work and a strong ensemble cast sells me right then and there.  But Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is the cinematic gift that keeps on giving.  Why?

Two words: it's relatable.

Now, I've never had to beat up anyone's exes.  When my cell phone rings, there's not a neat animated visual.  And I sure as hell don't have a laugh track following me around.

But I do have baggage.  I'm not going to give you the details because a) it's not that kind of blog, and b) it even bores me, and I lived it.  However, more often than not I feel like damaged goods, relationship-wise.  I've made my share of mistakes, so who the hell would want to take me on as a ladyfriend?  In my head, I know I'm not so special and everyone's got their issues.  In my heart, it's not so obvious.

Scott Pilgrim points out that hey, we all have baggage!  We're all kind of messed up when it comes to relationships, whether they're casual or serious or uber-lovey.  But if we can work through all the muck, we'll be okay playing with others.

My head and my heart were very reassured.

For a neato double feature on young love, rock 'n roll, and the Cera, see Scott Pilgrim vs. the World in theatres, then go rent Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist (the latter is based on a fantastic YA novel!).  You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll hum along, you'll remember that you and everyone else are only human.  We all mess up, but we're all one another's saving grace.


  1. Michael Cera knows what Michael Cera does well. And he keeps doing it. You can't fault him for that. (Though I do worry for him what's gonna happen when he grows up!)

    If our babysitting situation works out, my husband and I are probably going to see Scott Pilgrim this weekend. We've been waiting MONTHS for it!

  2. Also, I have no idea who Aubrey Plaza is. So I will neither a-rake you over the coals, nor b-agree with you that she's everywhere.

  3. I really want to see this now if only for the Arrested Development cameos! Yeah ditto on Aubrey..

  4. I have missed your blog! Couldn't possibly say why I haven't visited it in a while, apart from sheer uselessness on my behalf. But I watched Whip It the other day and the "be your own hero" line made me think of your blog post about it :) On the whole it was a very good film (and YAY Zoe Bell and her kiwi accent).

    Guess I'll end up seeing Scott Pilgrim eventually - could take or leave Michael Cera, but like Nikki says, hard to fault him doing what he does.

  5. Nikki: I predict you and Mr. Nikki will really like it. Let us know what you think!

    I don't really fault Cera for doing what he does--hey, it's really working for him career-wise, and he won't be able to play the confused boyman forever, so he's smart to get the most he can out of it. I just was kind of tired of seeing him EVERYWHERE . . . until I actually saw this movie, and he really won me over. You see a little darker side to him that wasn't in Juno or even Nick & Norah, and it was really interesting to watch.

    Amiee--the Arrested Development cast members alone are worth the price of admission. I love how so many AD alums (not just those in this film, but Will Arnett and Jason Bateman) now have pretty good careers. Well-deserved!

    Laura/hungryandfrozen--Welcome back! I've missed you! Funny you mentioned Whip It. I was just rewatching 500 Days of Summer last night, and there was a preview for Whip It. I wish it had done better box-office wise,and I firmly believe it should be required viewing for all teenage girls. Isn't Zoe a badass?