Look Out, World! It’s Scott Pilgrim!

10 Aug

SCOTT PILGRIM vs. THE WORLD (2010)
Directed by: Edgar Wright
Written by: Edgar Wright & Michael Bacall
Starring: Michael Cera, May Elizabeth Winstead, Kieran Culkin, Jason Schwartzmann

This weekend, a wild fantasy film born of underground rock and Super Mario Brothers hits the scene. It’s quirky, it’s funny, and it knocks your socks off at ninety miles per hour. It is Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, and it is here to make you think about death and get sad and stuff.

The film gets its genesis from the comic book Scott Pilgrim by Bryan Lee O’Malley. It follows the titular character (Michael Cera) as he meets beautiful Ramona (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), and wins her over by defeating her seven evil “exes.” It’s a classic epic storyline given a retro-hipster twist. The hero is bassist for the band “Sex Bob-Omb,” and uses karate, a battle of the bands, and skateboard stunts to defeat the exes. It’s dripping with pop-culture references that will hit home with that 18-30 demographic, chief among them the video game and specifically Nintendo spin to the entire film. Battles begin like Mortal Kombat matches, characters flash red when injured, and Zelda music plays in the background 1. But it goes beyond being a mish-mash of cultural references – it has a well-structured story, relatable characters, and it’s really, really funny.

Michael Cera is perfectly cast as the unlikely hero of Scott Pilgrim. He’s a little dorky, but he’s likable, and director Edgar Wright himself said that Cera effectively plays a role that “audiences will still follow even when the character is being a bit of an ass.” 2 Everyone in the cast seems to have a solid grasp on the style – they’re serious without being too serious. They can play this crazy, supernatural world in absolute earnest, but still make us laugh. Some actors like Jason Schwartzman and Keiran Culkin are familiar to the indie film crowd, but other relative newcomers like Stephen Webber and Brie Larson step up to the plate and really hit it out of the park. Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s Ramona may be one of the easier roles in the film, but she’s absolutely lovely. All the actors seem to be having so much fun, and it’s contagious.

I think most film people are pretty familiar with the work of Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) but he may be unfamiliar with a lot of casual movie watchers – I sincerely hope that this film brings him square into the limelight. He’s one of the few young directors out there now with a clear, consistent vision, a recognizable style, and the talent to make it all work together. This guy knows comedy. Whereas a lot of today’s comedies rely overwhelmingly on the script to bring the funny, Wright knows how to us the camera to tell jokes. That’s not to say that the script isn’t funny – it’s very funny in both situation and dialogue. But Wright takes that a step further and uses camera moves, camera angles and framing to make a joke, and he does it expertly. I’d try and describe some, but it isn’t something you can write – you have to see it.

Another thing he brings to the table is a fantastic sense of pacing. This movie really moves; so much has to happen but it never feels rushed. There’s a constant state of motion, unmuddled by clunky pacing, transitions or exposition. It tells what it needs to tell, and doesn’t slow down so you can catch your breath – what fun is a roller coaster if you’re constantly slowing down so you can get a grasp on where you’re going? The film is directed with mind-boggling detail and control, and despite the light subject matter, I think it’s the mark of a true master.

Let’s talk about the music. It’s awesome. The filmmakers spared no expense in getting music that fits with the tone and sounds great. Sex Bob-Omb’s songs are ghost written by Beck, rival band Crash and the Boys are written by Broken Social Scene, and there’s Rolling Stones, T. Rex, and Frank Black scattered throughout the soundtrack. In a movie that could have easily skated by on music that’s just adequate, they go out of the way to find talented, hip musicians to contribute. Most movies in recent memory that feature musician characters call painful attention to the fact that screenwriters are not music writers 3. It can even break down your suspension of disbelief when you’re forced to believe that an obviously mediocre band is a big hit. But the musicians in Scott Pilgrim seem so cool, and the music’s solid enough that we buy the buzz.

It’s fun, it’s funny, and it’s a blast to watch. This movie knows where it’s going and is firing on all cylinders. It seems like it could easily turn kitschy or cheesy, but Scott Pilgrim vs. the World stays fresh and witty. Go see it – you’ll probably want to see it again.

1. If you’re as big a Nintendo geek as I am, you already got the “Bob-Omb” reference.

2. This from a June interview with Wired magazine, or so Wikipedia tells me.

3. While it may be catchy, Charlie’s “You All Everybody” from “Lost” is pretty lame.

2 Responses to “Look Out, World! It’s Scott Pilgrim!”

  1. Jaydon August 10, 2010 at 11:00 pm #

    Regarding your third annotation, Charlie and Drive Shaft were supposed to be hacky one-hit wonders. Remember Blessid Union of Souls' "Hey Leonardo (She Likes Me For Me)" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vSdbQLXpmPQ ? A prime example of the kind of band Lost was going for with Drive Shaft.

    Also, "obviously mediocre bands" are often huge. Nickelback, Creed, Daughtery, arguably Kings of Leon etc.

    All this aside, I get your main point about buying into the music of the film. Perhaps your point is that movies and tv pull off hackery in a less believable way. If that's your point I'm with you.

  2. Zach August 19, 2010 at 12:47 am #

    Man, how could I miss the Bob-omb reference?

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