Pretty damned revelatory.
I’m gonna do something I don’t normally do, which is reprint my entire review which ran on UGO.
“Oh, to be young and feel love’s sting.” – Albus Dumbledore.
There is a reason why Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, Edgar Wright’s wildly innovative film adaptation of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s collection of graphic novels, is, in the parlance of its characters, an epic win. Beneath the dazzling special effects, catchy music, layers of sound design and more sight gags you can shake a +2 against girls hammer at, beat the hearts of confused young people in love.
SPvTW tells the story of a slackerish kid in Toronto who likes video games, plays bass in a mediocre band, hasn’t had a mature emotional relationship and, importantly, doesn’t know that yet. The telling of his life is treated like a game (with effects-heavy fight sequences dropped in like songs in a musical) and Pilgrim moves from level to level, reaching the ultimate boss fight in an attempt to win the girl of his (literal) dreams.
The film drifts in and out of realism with ease. What begins with established cinematic tricks, such as voice over and on-screen text, soon escalates into an orgy of visual gimmickry. Truthfully, I’ve never seen a movie with quite this much post-production fourth wall picture and sound tinkering. Ang Lee’s Hulk exploited its comic book origins with unique transitions – Scott Pilgrim vs. The World spazzes out with ADD-defying levels of pacing.
This is in no way a knock against Wright’s film. It is actually something of a triumph. There’s not one moment in the entire movie that isn’t shot or edited from a “never quite seen that before” perspective. Scenes smash together with split-screens, sound effects and thoughts are graphologized, lighting, even sets, change to express emotion – seriously, when Brian De Palma sees this movie he’s either going to get very inspired or slit his wrists.
It is not, however, sparkle for sparkle’s sake. It is an extension of who these kids are: the gamers, the texters, the generation who express complete thoughts in 140 characters. You’ll hear cell phone alerts throughout the film, but it won’t be from obnoxious audience members. It is part of a soundscape that’s stitched into the fabric of Pilgrim and his friends’ lives.
Michael Cera, the titular hero, is perfectly cast, silencing any concerns that he can only do “his thing” in every role. Cera and director Wright wisely tweak the character to play to Cera’s strengths, bringing added dimensions of comedy that did not exist in the original book. I think it is the best work Cera has ever done.
There are enough easter eggs in Scott Pilgrim for its own wiki. I’m just happy I caught the audio cue to Flash Gordon and Cera paraphrasing my favorite Chico Marx joke. Still, this is all secondary to the overwhelming adorableness of Pilgrim and his friends.
Each cast member knocks it out of the park. While Mary Elizabeth Winstead is the obvious winner with her dyed hair and penetrating eyes, I must give special praise to Keiran Culkan as Scott’s gay roomate Wallace Wells and Ellen Wong as Scott’s girlfriend/stalker Knives Chau. They are astoundingly good, delivering fresh line readings and the camera just loves ‘em.
Not everything from O’Malley’s books made it in – there’s same sex kissing, but not between girls – but that’s fine. Truthfully, I find the books to be a tad overrated – despite an overheard line from one of Jason Schwartzman’s partygoing douchebags, which claims the comic is always better than the movie. Edgar Wright has used O’Malley’s source material to give us something that rare thing – a new style of film. And that is truly an epic win.