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Scott Pilgrim vs The World

dir: Edgar Wright
[img_assist|nid=1306|title=Do you think Michael Cera ever gets sick of being Michael Cera?|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=296|height=500]
Oh, Michael Cera. If you didn’t already exist, they would have had to construct you from the corpses of several painfully thin hipster douchebags, held together with wet papier mache from indie street newspapers, deliberately ironic hipster unwashed t-shirts and neurotic tics so pervasive even Woody Allen would give you a wide berth.

And they would have constructed you too, so that you could play Scott Pilgrim. There probably isn’t a person on the planet better suited to playing this supremely annoying character. You were handpicked by fate, by the universe, by all the random possibilities that lead to an almost supernaturally predetermined result.

For that I congratulate you. And, also, for becoming this generation’s white Urkell.

The weird thing is I actually like Michael Cera. He only ever plays one kind of character, and, as Scott Pilgrim, he’s the weakest and whiniest version of that Michael Cera character (except when he’s fighting). I like him even when I find him annoying, which is a remarkable trait to possess. As Scott Pilgrim, it’s ultimately irrelevant how he plays it, because it’s almost like Bryan Lee O’Malley wrote the comic book with him in mind, which he clearly could not have, having never met him.

It’s not as if the flick is pretending to be any more significant that it seems. It’s its very nature to be a hodgepodge of comic, game and music references, brimming over with pop cultural in-jokes to an almost painful degree. Painful even for those of us, like myself, who are pretty much entrenched in this world, this sad, beautiful and neurotic world.

Look, in a way I’m probably the target demographic for something like this (by inclination, and probably age group too), because the cutesy game references would mean nothing to the kids of today. The music as well, and the portrayal of the simplistic representation of the Toronto music scene is deliberately dated as well, having far more in common with something like Josie and the Pussycats than anything that actually happens anywhere today. But this kind of grounding would ultimately be pointless in a flick where much of the time is taken up with fantastical battles generally between Scott and a bunch of Evil Exes.

It’s also trying constantly, desperately to be funny with every single second of screen time. Every moment, every word of dialogue is underlined, highlighted, surrounded by visual and sound effects and coquettish “do you like me?” faux naivety. That is, every moment where people aren’t beating the shit out of each other.

Scott’s life is pathetic, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s how most stories start, to guarantee that the only way would be up for our protagonist. The thing is, though, Scott is such an annoying sack of crap that, despite the outcomes of his various battles, he pretty much starts and ends in the same place, except with one tiny difference.

The shitbag’s problems mostly arise from his problems with girls. Not the problem that faces most sweaty, spotty nerds: being the inability to get girls, and the physical symptoms arising from the compulsive masturbation prompted by the complete lack of girls. His problem is that he’s so deliriously self-centred, and oblivious to what goes on around him, that whenever a woman is unfortunate enough to get involved with him, they remain an abstraction to him, barely registering as real people until they do something he doesn’t like.

Scott is 22, so to an extent we can forgive some of his shortcomings. The dumbest, most selfish or stupidly violent stuff Scott’s responsible for pales into insignificance compared to some of the shit I remember from a similar age. And I don’t have self-centredness, the League of Evil Exes or impending rock stardom as an excuse for any of it.

That being said, he’s so fucking annoying. The people around him are pretty annoying to, but in ways that are amusing. That’s my main tack on the whole flick: it’s not that funny, but it is pretty amusing. Scott’s raucously and predatory roommate Wallace (Keiran Culkin) is so arch and droll it hurts. Scott’s bandmates in Sex Bob-Omb are pretty one-note, but that befits the aspirations of some fairly talentless hacks. When they get involved in a Battle of the Bands, the intention is to lead to fame and money, but nothing they do indicates anyone should ever listen to their music.

I was also not that enamoured with the product placement throughout the flick. I understand we now live in a world where we expect it as a given, but I doubt I’m ever going to get used to people talking about Coke Zero several times and showing the goddamn can because it’s never going to look anything but shameless and awkward.

Scott, breaking his year-long drought, gets involved with an intense Chinese-Canadian schoolgirl called Knives Chau (Ellen Wong), who starts off annoying but then gets better. Their relationship is cloyingly platonic, and yet the field of battle is set, because soon after Scott literally meets the girl of his dreams Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). In pursuing a relationship with Ramona, because presumably he’d rather hold her legal hand than Knives’s clearly jailbait hand, he neglects to grow the balls to effectively end his current relationship properly.

The problems with Knives pale in comparison with the problems arising from Ramona. Despite having purty hair and a cool name, there’s nothing vaguely memorable about her. It’s pointless asking why Scott becomes so fixated on her, because that’s the story. Regardless, when he starts giving her puppy dog eyes, and she doesn’t get a restraining order, Scott starts being confronted by Ramona’s ex partners, stretching as far back as 7th grade.

These battles transcend being merely cartoonish. They follow the parameters of video games, especially ones from an earlier era, but they are most akin to the kinds of stuff you see in flicks like Kung Fu Hustle. The fight choreography is great, and the scenes are high-energy (as is the whole flick), but there’s not even the vaguest impression that the fights, which are actually happening, are dangerous in any way.

Sure, sure, I get that they’re meant to be symbolic, as in, whenever you start dating anyone, you sometimes have to deal with that person’s baggage regarding those other people who literally and figuratively came before you with, on or in your new partner. Sometimes you actually do have to confront them, especially when you live in a small town, or in an incestuously insular scene like the hipster circle of the inner city, and see them wherever you go.

I’ve got no problem with the fights, in fact I very much enjoyed them. They do have the effect, though, of draining significance and interest in what’s going on. The other characters don’t act as if they’re oblivious to what’s happening, it’s just that afterwards, even as they might comment like “Dude, you totally headbutted that guy until he turned into a stack of coins”, it all goes back to ‘normal’. The musical analogy is apt, in that the makers and various commentary agrees that the fights basically operate on the same level as musical numbers, where no-one questions where the music’s coming from, or how everyone knows the right choreography, and then afterward it just chugs along like nothing happened.

The thing is, the whole flick is so cartoonish that it’s irrelevant where its happening or what level of reality we’re supposed to intuit. It’s all as real or unreal as any other flick, even if it’s essentially fantastical in how one person thinks about his life and the world he lives in.

Look, it’s annoying, but it’s not unenjoyable. I certainly enjoyed stretches of it, mostly the direction and editing Edgar Wright puts together, which is as sharp as anything he’s done before (though I’d put this safely third after his previous two efforts, being Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz). He has this trademark scene editing for mundane events that’s as recognisable as any directorial flourish that anyone else possesses (Too many images of feet in the flick? It must be Tarantino. Girls lezzing out for no reason in your flick that also has backwards talking dwarves and supernatural cowboys? It’s David Lynch etc etc)

It’s just that I actively disliked the main character, and the girl of his dreams, and pretty much everyone else, and couldn’t ultimately care what way any of it was going to turn out. Most everyone does okay, I guess, and funniest for my money being Brandon Routh as an ex with superpowers arising from his strict veganism, and Chris Evans playing an action superstar called Lucas Lee, with eyebrows not seen in cinemas since Tyrone Power shuffled off this mortal coil. It will be interesting to see if his go at Captain America will be more like this, or more like his hackwork in those diabolical Fantastic Four movies.

There’s enough here to keep me amused, and sure, if references to Zelda and Nintendo games from the 80s and 90s sound like cinematic crack to you, then have at it. But there’s something profoundly lacking, even in something meant mostly to be a whole bunch of fun. I can’t really lay the blame at the feet either of Edgar Wright or Michael Cera, or this fantastic production, since this is the best possible Scott Pilgrim movie anyone anywhere could ever have made. Maybe my problem is ultimately with the source material.

Either way, it’s probably worth a viewing a long time from now on cable. It’s no wonder to me why it failed at the box office. Because it’s some silly shit, and it’s oh so goddamn precious as well. Stuff like that amuses me, though probably not you.

6 times I thought the Universal opening theme in 8-bit MIDI was a brilliant touch out of 10

“Scott, if your life had a face, I would punch it.” – Why the need to go nebulous, just punch his actual fucking face in already – Scott Pilgrim vs The World.