Monday, September 6, 2010

Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World

Never let it be said that I'm not a fan of exceptional graphic novels. Arguably better than most popular literature, telling their stories with both words and pictures. Some have managed to earn high honors even in the literary world. The Watchmen, Sin City, the Dark Knight Returns. All excellent reads, and interpreted brilliantly panel by panel. And a good cartoon? If you count a select few anime titles you could say I'm a fan. Cutesy chibi style cartoons and Power Puff fluff, though, no thank you. Which is primarily what's kept me away from the Brian Lee O'Malley's Scott Pilgrim books. In fact, I'd go so far as to say I had no interest in the live action movie at all from the cast announcements through to script leaks and set stills. At least, not until I discovered Edgar Wright was helming the picture. After Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz each revitalizing their own genres respectively, I knew I'd ultimately give Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World a chance, I'm glad I did.

Michael Cera plays 23 year old Scott Pilgrim, a petulant whiner used to getting his way regardless the scenario, living with his gay roommate and gliding between band practice and not really doing anything. He dates a 17 year old Chinese girl named Knives and their relationship is ambiguous and outwardly platonic - especially cruel here since she clearly dotes on him - due to the apathy that seems to hover just below Scott's feigned enthusiasm for pretty much everything. That changes, though, once Scott starts first dreaming of, then seeing another girl, Ramona Flowers. He becomes smitten, as the trailers none too subtlety reveal, they date and he is tasked with defeating her seven evil exes. One of the simpler plotlines to grace screens this late in the year, but works astonishingly well for how Wright put it all together.

To start, Michael Cera is actually acting here, rather than just playing awkward. A first. He puts a lot into the character, and his brand of ADHD inspired whimsy is particularly refreshing here rather than off-putting. Scott's got a lot of heart, even if he is self-absorbed and flaky. Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays Ramona appropriately aloof and distant, but cute enough and tragic enough that you get why Scott becomes so easily infatuated with her. The other cast are all suitably comic enough, especially given their roles as characters that are in fact comics. Of particular note Chris Evans is hysterically shallow and self-absorbed as ex #2, and Brandon Routh probably takes the cake as delusional ex #3, the super vegan. Speaking of which, at this point Thomas Jane and Clifton Collins show up for one of the funniest moments of the entire movie, a segue so random and crucial that to say anymore would totally ruin the moment. Everything script-wise and within the dialog is exaggerated to suit the source material and it works well, never feeling like real life, but also never treading waters that are insincere.

The movie itself is manic and overtly insane. Like a Looney Tune or after school special for high schoolers through 30 somethings addicted to various blends of caffeine and afflicted with a tendency to hear everything in gibberish. It's Edgar Wright's ode to 80's arcade culture where everything is flashy and gaudiness doesn't exist. It flows oddly and will catch some people off guard, wondering whether they missed a scene or does the movie really just move that fast. The music is crashing and off-kilter as well, Rickenbacker dependent with drop D tuning, though it's never overly hip or obnoxiously trendy but instead admirably lo-fi with some tracks worthy of Guitar Wolf comparison. But more importantly, the movie is heartfelt and honest and I think anyone that's ever suffered the hobbies of the nerdly might attest that it's fully accurate in capturing the deeds of those it depicts. It's also probably the most mature work that Cera has done, masked as an immature shout for attention. While your enjoyment of the movie will hinge upon you buying into his portrayal of Scott Pilgrim, it's as enthusiastic and whole-hearted an effort any other actor might have imbued the role with. I actually discovered I gave a shit by the time the movie's end drew near.

So yes, while I've never indulged in any of the books on which Edgar Wright's Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World is based I enjoyed it. To be clearer, I enjoyed it a lot. I really haven't seen many movies like this, and I can only retain a hope that it doesn't become a new norm for writers and directors looking to milk some cash cow. Don't mistake it for hipster fluff, because it's not. It tells a coherent story that is hilarious and fun, though admittedly garish and loud, disjointed and coasting on a perpetual caffeine and sugar high that never lets up. It's nice to see skewed perspectives telling stories we've already heard, making them fresh and fun again, especially when it's something as universal as learning empathy, sympathy, and selflessness. I think it may be preaching to the choir to some degree, but in this case that's fine, since they're all lessons worth learning again. And maybe it'll encourage some kids to read. There may be pictures, but it's still basically a book.

1 comment:

Aaron said...

sounds like a pleasant surprise, I was crazy-entertained by Machete, you should bang up a quick review of Robt. Rodri's grindy actionfest as well.