Being There

Ruminations on Music, Film and Culture


Film Review: Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

Directed by Edgar Wright

Rating: ★★★★★

Scott Pilgrim is not unlike the sorts of indie hipsters you run into on the streets of Toronto, or any other metropolis.

You see him at Bloor Cinema, catching the latest zombie movie.  You see him at Sonic Boom, shopping for records by bands you’ve never heard of.  You see him at Lee’s Palace, seeing those bands live – hoping that one day his band (or her band, for there are many female Scott Pilgrims out there) can gain the amount of respectability to get booked there too.

In many ways, Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) is his generation’s Rob Gordon (the mid-thirtyish protagonist of High Fidelity).  He likes rock music, video games and girls – and as soon as a new one dazzles him, he’s forgotten about everything else in his life.  Pilgrim is happily dating a high school girl and playing in a band, until he meets Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), at which point the only priority in his life is winning her heart.

Unfortunately for Pilgrim, Ramona comes with some baggage.  In order to be with her, she warns him that he must defeat all seven of her evil exes.  This is where the video game motif comes in.  Each time Scott faces one of Ramona’s exes, we are immediately thrust into a world reminiscent of Street Fighter II or Dragonball Z. When Scott defeats Ramona’s first evil ex-boyfriend, Matthew Patel, he bursts into coins – much like a villain in Super Mario Bros. would.  Meanwhile, an old school computer font flashes a large “1,000” for points scored.  After defeating another evil ex, Scott reaches for a “1 Up” icon of his face, denoting an extra life.

Each face-off with one of Ramona’s evil exes is staged like a video game level, with a different soundtrack, different backdrop and different villain.  All of these villains seem equipped with superhuman strength and some sort of supernatural or metaphysical ability.  Although sleek and agile, he must use his creativity to defeat each one of them, leading up to the group’s mastermind, music promoter Gideon Graves (Jason Schwartzman).

Elsewhere in the film, we get to see Scott interact with a great supporting cast.  His sister (Anna Kendrick) and roommate (Kieran Culkin) in particular try their hardest to keep Scott grounded in reality, even if it never manages to work for very long.  Also entertaining are Pilgrim’s bandmates Stephen Stills (Mark Webber), Young Neil (Johnny Simmons) and Kim Pine (Alison Pill), not to mention his initial girlfriend Knives Chau (Ellen Wong), who he ditches as soon as Ramona comes along.

Scott Pilgrim may be the titular character of the film and the one we find ourselves rooting for (when he’s not being an asshole), but the true hero of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is director Edgar Wright, who has taken visual and musical cues from video games, television and comic books and delivered a well-crafted, widly entertaining feature film.  Even the opening Universal logo and music are done up in the style of an 8-bit video game, and audio and visual cues are all over the rest of the film.

All of the important elements of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s graphic novels have stayed intact, most importantly the uniquely Torontonian references and setting.  Admittedly, as a Torontonian, it’s a unique thrill to see a film produced by an American company and directed by a Brit take place in my city.  There are a few jokes that may be lost on foreign audiences, but I secretly wait in vain until one of my friends visits and requests the “Scott Pilgrim Experience Tour.”

One Response to “Film Review: Scott Pilgrim vs. The World”

  1. August 23rd, 2010 at 8:29 am

    Brett Gerry says:

    Surely we deserve better than this cartoon mess?

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