Review – Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010)

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World [2010]

Starring: Michael Cera, Kieran Culkin, Ellen Wong, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Anna Kendrick
Director: Edgar Wright
Screenwriter: Michael Bacall, Edgar Wright

Scott Pilgrim is, in many regards, the movie of this generation; of my generation. The cultural references are to video games, comic books and new media. Its outlook on life is one that feels uniquely in touch with many of the sensibilities I feel myself and my peers hold. It’s also a movie that I can imagine people saying, “maybe I have to read the comic to fully understand it”. Although I agree that it’s difficult not to think of an adaptation in how it relates to its source, I also believe that adaptations should stand on their own and not rely on an understanding of the source to get the most out of them. Fortunately for Scott Pilgrim, it does stand on its own.

The title character, Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera), is a socially-awkward 22-year-old slacker who belongs to a band named “The Sex Bob-ombs”. He also lives across from the house he grew up in, in an apartment that’s too small, sleeping in a bed he shares with his gay roommate Wallace (Kieran Culkin). He’s also dating a high schooler named Knives Chau (Ellen Wong), who has a slightly obsessive crush on Scott, and also a slightly obsessive love for his band, of which she is the only fan. One night, Scott has a dream about a girl, who he’s never met and never seen. And then, suddenly, at a party one night he sees her. She’s real and her name is Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). She’s also, according to the people who know her (and who know little about her) unobtainable. But somehow, Scott strikes up a friendship, and then a relationship with her. Little does he know, getting Ramona means fighting (and beating) all of her exes, all of whom have extraordinary powers.

The story itself is pretty basic on paper. The execution of the film is at times magic to behold. The special effects in the fights are enjoyable, and are certainly eye-candy. And after watching the trailer, what I’ve said up till now is basically all one would probably understand. What I found to charming and enjoyable about the movie, however, was that it seemed in so many ways the embodiment of the way the people of my generation approach different facets of life. Aside from the cultural references to video games (losing hearts when you get hurt, like in The Legend of Zelda, or knowing how to play the bass to Final Fantasy II’s battle theme being just a couple), the sensibility of the film’s approach are also on the same level. The fights are over-stylized and pumped with special effects, and with each win Scott obtains points. He’s also somehow able to get thrown into a wall fifty feet away and in the air, and survive. But there’s a key concept that makes it work: it doesn’t feel like a video game in the sense of “I want to play, but I can only watch”. It feels like how a video game approaches its audience, which is with a certain gaiety and willingness to take risks that’s missing from many films these days.

I enjoyed the way even the film’s directing, editing and writing took into account the generational approach. “ADD editing,” big explosions, quick-talking and too-smart-for-their-own-good exchanges, an actual “girl of your dreams” coming into your life, and even dreams and reality sometimes melding into one. I especially likes the scenes of Scott and Ramona on their first date: a certain innocence and sweetness to it, somehow “too perfect” for its own good. I also loved the characters, especially the minor characters like Scott’s sister, Stacey, played (wonderfully as always) by Anna Kendrick.

I approached Scott Pilgrim with skepticism, but when I looked back on it and thought of it metaphorically, it made perfect sense to me. The film allows Scott to get thrown into a wall, or allows one of the exes to have psychic powers or super speed, because the film looks at life through the lens of a 22-year-old raised on video games and media. How does someone in a relationship deal with past relationships? What happens when the “honeymoon period” ends? How does someone overcome the burdens of one’s past in order to move on into the future with someone else? The media of our world offers a lens through which we can look: each new level of the relationship is like a level of a video game, and each bump in the road (the exes, in this case) are the bosses. The reward (outside of the points or 1-ups) is a better understanding of who your partner is.

Some may consider this outlook to be childish, or immature, but I’m not so sure. Scott obviously has social insecurities, and insecurities about life. He also has major insecurities about his biggest past relationship, which he has a huge problem dealing with. He deals with life differently than is traditionally thought, but that doesn’t make it wrong. It’s different. If our generation defines itself in a way separate from that of our parents, it seems to me that different is definitely it. Different how? I don’t know. In many ways, we’re still trying to define ourselves. Scott’s trying to define himself, and find out who he is. And he does it in a way that his generation can understand. For those outside of it, I think the film offers insight into the way we think and approach life. It’s not a perfect approach, but whose is?

4 Responses to Review – Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010)

  1. I’m somewhat embarrassed to say that I didn’t care to discern any profundity in SCOTT PILGRIM but I loved it nonetheless. It sort of snuck up on me, I have no interest in video games, I’m apathetic towards Cera but it was just way too much fun to resist and it follows its rules so well and yet throws curve-balls at you. It’s a real shame it’s not being praised by more.

  2. John says:

    I loved this the first time I saw it, but it didn’t hold up as well the second time, which is why it missed by 2010 top-10 list.

    • Nathan says:

      I have a feeling I might have the same reaction. I’ve only seen it once, and the review is based on that initial reaction.

  3. hoganbcmj says:

    I thought this movie did something visually that was realized in a way I hadn’t seen before, but probably it’s been tried.

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