Directed by Edgar Wright
Written by Wright and Michael Bacall from the
Bryan Lee O’Malley graphic novels.
Yes, this is a bit shameful. The friggin’ movie came out in mid-August and I’m only getting to
see it now. It speaks to my busy August and the amazing stretch of weather that kept me out in the sun and away from the cinema. So, anyway… I’m catching up.
Full disclosure time: I am a fan of the comics, I’ve read them all. Also, while Bryan Lee O’Malley—the creator of the comic book—lived in Halifax, we hung out a few times. We played poker together, I went out to his home for a party and got to know him and his wife, cartoonist Hope Larson. I found them to be charming, talented folks. I offer these details as evidence of a potential bias, and say that given this going into it I was rooting for this picture. Having also enjoyed Wright’s Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead I was pretty psyched to see what he would do with this.
The backstory: Scott Pilgrim is an early 20-something dude living in Toronto. He doesn’t have a job, but he plays bass in a rock band. He shares an apartment with a friend, Wallace Wells, who happens to be gay. There’s only one bed, so that’s cozy, but everyone is cool and understands the boundaries. Scott is dating a 17-year-old high school student named Knives Chau, which all his friends think is lame. Then he meets Ramona Flowers, who’s new in town, and she rocks his world. But he needs to break up with Knives if he’s going to date Ramona, and that’s icky. Plus, in order to date Ramona, he has to defeat her seven evil exes in mortal combat.
Let me start with the elements of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World that I liked: It’s kinetically superfun. Wright brings many of the elements of the comic to the screen; the overt Manga and video game influences, the self-conscious wit, even adding the “speed lines” and sound effect animations. The music is great and the casting decisions are bang on, especially Mark Webber as Stephen Stills, Kieran Culkin as Wallace Wells and Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Ramona Flowers. Michael Cera is fine as Scott, though I was hoping he’d be a little more unlikeable, that he’d have a little more edge. Cera’s not known for his edge, I suppose. And it’s amazing to see Toronto landmarks playing themselves, Honest Ed’s, Casa Loma and the Annex. Between this movie and Atom Egoyan’s Chloe, Toronto is really shining on screen this year.
I can’t deny the film is, in many respects, a unique, tasty treat, stuffed with cultural touchstones that will likely resonate with romantic geeks and gaming freaks everywhere. And yeah, there’s a big “but” attached to that admission.
About halfway through the movie I forgot how it began. That’s how little emotional engagement I was having in the cinema. The story and characters are about as substantial as a puff of smoke, and the script wasn’t nearly as funny as I was hoping it would be. Of course, the comic had six volumes with which to bring an attachment to characters, but on the screen it felt like the zippy bells- and-whistles of print-Scott had been accurately transposed, but not much else. And once the seven evil exes make the scene, much of what character drama existed previously is shunted aside for the frequent, if impressive, action set-pieces.
And it’s not to say the drama has no weight at all… we learn as we go that what Scott is lacking is a bit of self-respect, and that’s pretty clear in the end (something he found in the comic with the help of a day job… a bedrock of realism… which doesn’t get in the movie).
But, you know, there were times I thought they’d adapted and updated an Archie comic. With added kung fu. Maybe that kind of simplicity was always there in the graphic novels but I didn’t recognize it.
Maybe my expectations were outsized, but what I wanted was a reason to see it a second time, just as I’ve read the comics at least a couple times. That I didn’t find.