Film Reviews

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: Michael Cera Grows a Soul and a Pair

Edgar Wright's Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is every bit as faithful to its source material (Bryan Lee O'Malley's six-volume series about a 22-year-old go-nowhere man-boy fending off his new girlfriend's seven evil exes) as Zack Snyder's Watchmen was to his (Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' brooding comic-hero deconstruction). Both treat the comic-book panels as storyboards, and the dialogue as road maps from which they seldom stray. The devoted fanboy could sing along with each upon first viewing, but there is, ultimately, but one significant difference: Wright and co-writer Michael Bacall's comic-book movie has soul.

For all of Scott Pilgrim's strict adherence to the comic, it goes even deeper, conveying the ache pulsating between the lines in O'Malley's original.

For all its dopey pop-culture clutter, Scott Pilgrim is still essentially The Oldest Story in the Book: Boy meets girl and has to fight to keep her. The boy is Scott Pilgrim—played by Michael Cera. A stunted mess stranded in deep-freeze Canada, he's got himself a high school girlfriend named Knives (Ellen Wong), plays bass in a decent-but-never-gonna-make-it pop-punk trio called Sex Bob-Omb (whose drummer is a bitter ex-girlfriend, played by Alison Pill) and shares an apartment and mattress with gay roomie Wallace Wells (Kieran Culkin), who thinks nothing of bringing a boytoy to bed.

At first, Scott's but another in a looooong line of mopey, tousled kidults played by Cera, who seems to have a range from A to A. But as soon as Scott meets Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), the kid seems to sprout some fuzz on his peaches—out goes the whine, down goes a shot of bourbon.

Ramona is damaged goods and proud of it—a New York girl who's moved to the Great White North to escape something and someone, a mysterious Gideon. She's looking for a fresh start and keeps her distance; when she first meets Scott at a party, she celebrates his offer to disappear forever. But beneath the frozen exterior and haphazardly dyed hair lurks a girl just ashamed of her baggage—all the mistakes she's dated along the way, starting with her seventh-grade love affair with the only other outsider at her school who hated the jocks as much as she. Best she keep that luggage locked, lest it all come spilling out, ready to kick the ass of any comer who offers Ramona, like, True Love.

Which is, of course, what happens, and then the movie really comes alive—right around the time when, during a Sex Bob-Omb big break, out of nowhere a kid named Matthew Patel (Satya Bhabha) comes flying foot-first into Scott's pointy face itching for a fight. Wright stages the brawl as he does the others to come—like a video-game-gone-wide-screen.

Ramona reveals to Scott that if he really wants to date her, he'll have to contend with her evil exes—not just beat them up, but destroy them till they crumble into a puddle of coins and power-ups. And then comes the lost-love parade: the cocksure actor (Chris Evans); the bass-playing vegan (Brandon Routh) who can be done in with a sip of half-and-half; the "bi-furious" Roxy Richter (Mae Whitman) from Ramona's experimental days; and so forth till we meet Gideon (Jason Schwartzman as End-Level Boss stud). The exes are more than just punching bags—they're inside jokes, too, references piled upon references piled upon references.

Which only serves to underscore myriad joys contained within, because the little jokes only brighten up the bigger picture, which is: Scott and Ramona, like any other couple, have to slog through the shit if they're truly meant to be together. Wright, as he did in Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz and the series Spaced, immerses his heroes in pop culture's detritus and diversions, but doesn't drown them in it. You don't have to be dazzled or tickled by the movie, or get every joke, to be touched by it, too.

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky