By Don Simpson | August 12, 2010
Director: Edgar Wright
Writers: Edgar Wright, Michael Bacall, Bryan Lee O’Malley (comics)
Starring: Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Kieran Culkin, Chris Evans, Anna Kendrick, Alison Pill, Brandon Routh, Jason Schwartzman
The narrative begins as Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera), an unemployed 20-something indie-rawker living in Toronto, is “dating” (the quotes refer to the fact that they have not sealed the deal with a kiss) an awesomely named Catholic high-school student – Knives (Ellen Wong). Scott lives in a quaint studio apartment sharing a bed with a snarky gay roommate Wallace (Kieran Culkin). Alongside guitarist Stephen (Mark Webber) and drummer Kim (Alison Pill), Scott plays a gorgeous Rickenbacker bass (and from the murky sound of it I wouldn’t be surprised if Scott uses Super-Fuzz and Big Muff effects pedals) in the fuzzed-out 3-piece garage band Sex Bob-omb (a reference to Super Mario Bros. 2, Bob-ombs are living bombs that wander around aimlessly and eventually explode).
For no apparent reason (other than fate), Scott begins dreaming about a cute punky chick with Manic Panic hair – Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) – who skates around on rollerblades. (What indie-rock boy hasn’t dreamed of a girl like Ramona?) The girl of Scott’s dreams materializes into reality and Scott begins to stalk her, which is how Scott discovers that Ramona delivers packages for Amazon.ca and she recently relocated to Toronto from New York after breaking-up with Gideon (Jason Schwartzman).
It is not long before Scott and Ramona decide that they are dating (and Scott tosses a proverbial dagger into Knives’ heart); but in order to successfully date Ramona, Scott must defeat all seven of her evil exes via video game-style duels (a not-so-subtle metaphor for overcoming relationship baggage). As if living in a video game, Scott earns a reward of coins each time he conquers an evil ex (for other good deeds he receives different prizes – such as extra lives and magic swords). The subsequent adversaries become increasingly difficult to defeat as they each possess special powers – like Todd (Brandon Routh), a vegan with telekinetic powers, who gains his powers from using 100% of his brain (non-vegans only use 10% of their brain, the rest is burdened with curds and whey). As they battle, the characters take a licking and they keep on ticking – at least until Scott finally determines his adversary’s weakness and delivers the all important knock-out blow (“K.O.!”). It’s an all too cute and clever (albeit violent) nod to the hyper-real arcade in which these characters, and much of the film’s audience, exist.
Playfully directed and co-written by Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) and reverentially based on Bryan Lee O’Malley’s uber-hipster series of wide-eyed manga-styled graphic novels, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World offers a keen pop perspective of the worlds of indie-rock bands and video games. The only inkling of reality mustered from Scott Pilgrim is the film’s spot-on portrayal of the bitter and jaded rivalries between unknown bands clambering for attention in a hotbed of underground music. (Scott Pilgrim’s moniker itself is a reference to a 7” single from an obscure and defunct Canadian girl-rock band named Plumtree.)
Within this heightened unreality, the characters exist in a uniquely surreal and sugary pop world of their own. The characters’ emotions which are all but reduced to love and heartbreak are contextualized into exaggerated gestures – tears, rage, unbridled glee – like a silent film. The highly superficial character of Scott bares no psychological depth. We learn very little about Scott (except that he doesn’t own a cell phone or understand how to use the internet), and we gain no understanding of his true feelings for Knives or Ramona. With little rhyme nor reason, Scott is just going through the motions as if being controlled by someone standing off-screen playing with a joystick (he even jumps from scene to scene as if time and place are irrelevant)…and lucky for Scott, the master of his destiny has mastered the game of life.
The real life environs of Toronto are filmed in a fantastic manner, with random doors that appear out of nowhere and serve as portals (thus helping Ramona deliver her Amazon.ca packages all that much faster) as well as clever gaming-inspired CGI effects, adding to the hyperactive video game mystique of the film. Functioning as a hypertextualized mash-up of pop culture references from the 90s and 00s (thus lending the film a certain timeless quality), Scott Pilgrim does well to push the boundaries of reality in all kinds of directions. (This is not the typical mid-August Hollywood fare.) As long as your good senses are not insulted by some shameless stereotypes and a splattering of hyper-violence (though very little blood is shed), Scott Pilgrim is an entertaining flick with a very original soundtrack. (Beck composed the music played by Sex Bob-omb; Nigel Godrich composed the original score; Metric, Broken Social Scene, Cornelius, Dan the Automator, Kid Koala, and Beck’s father David Campbell also contributed tracks.)