Allow me to throw some of my favorite movies at you, and see if you can pick out the one that might not belong.
12 Angry Men.
City of God
The Age of Innocence
Lost in Translation
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World
If you asked me a couple years ago if one of my 10 favorite movies would be a graphic novel adaptation in a video game-esque universe starring Michael Cera and Macaulay Culkin’s younger brother, I would’ve thought you were completely insane. Then I saw the trailers for Scott Pilgrim and was blown away. I was unable to make it to the theater to see it, but I bought it for 9 bucks on half.com (seriously, if you buy all of your dvd’s from retail, you are being robbed. Half and Amazon have new and used DVD’s starting at under a dollar). Want to know how you know a movie is great? If you want to watch it again the second it’s over. When I finished watching this movie for the first time, the only question on my mind was when could I watch it again. “Scott Pilgrim,” directed by the brilliant Edgar Wright, is one of the most fun and entertaining movies I’ve ever seen. It has a brilliant visual style, great characters, an infectious sense of humor and most importantly, a heart at its center.
Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) is stuck in an early-20’s malaise. He lives in Toronto and plays bass in the band Sex Bob-Omb. He just got dumped by his rock star girlfriend and is dating a high-schooler named Knives Chau (Ellen Wong), but is not entirely fulfilled by her. He lives with, and shares a bed with his wisecracking gay roommate Wallace (Kieran Culkin), and the drummer in his band, Kim (Alison Pill) is another ex-girlfriend who constantly berates him.
Scott’s life changes when he meets Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) at a party and immediately falls in love with her. She’s American, and moved to Canada to escape her troubled past. After the two strike up a relationship, Scott receives a message from the League of Evil Exes: Scott must fight 7 of Ramona’s evil ex-boyfriends to the death if he wants to win her heart. Among them is the pirate hipster Matthew Patel, Todd the rock star vegan (Brandon Routh), Japanese twins who play techno music, a chain wielding lesbian a self-obsessed actor (Lee Evans) and at the top of the heap is record producer Gideon (Jason Schwartzmann). Scott must fight all of them in over-the-top battles to find true love.
Yeah that premise, taken from the graphic novels by Bryan Lee O’Malley, is pretty ludicrous. But it goes along with the world Wright creates in this film. Video game motifs are everywhere. The “Legend of Zelda” theme shows up on the soundtrack, words show up on the screen to signify sound effects, villains turn into coins when they lose fights, and Scott just happens to be an expert in kung-fu. Every frame of this film, which is absolutely gorgeous to look at, is filled with so many gags and visual flourishes that actually make it an pretty astonishing piece of filmmaking. This is Wright, who made the equally brilliant “Shawn of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz,” as well as the TV show “Spaced” (which is one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen, it’s available on Hulu for free, if you liked “Shawn” and “Fuzz,” you will love this show, I guarantee it), coming into the full-flower of his gifts. The soundtrack, with songs written by Beck, is also phenomenal, as music plays an important part in establishing this world as well. Did I mention this movie is insanely funny? There are so many great lines and all the actors have such impeccable comic timing that I can safely say this movie succeeds on a comedic level before all the other stuff.
The meat of this film is the fights between Scott and the Exes. It is true, that one fight after another does throw off the film’s pacing a bit, but each fight is a unique, carefully constructed set piece that any structural issues fall by the wayside. Each Ex is a distinct character, and each fight is different as a result. With editing so kinetic it will make your head spin and some superb special effects, these scenes make “Scott Pilgrim” unlike anything you will ever see. My personal favorite fight is with Todd, the rock-star vegan, mostly because it’s based on “Dragonball Z,” which pretty much dominated my life in middle school.
But what makes “Scott Pilgrim” truly work as a movie is the emotional depth that runs underneath the spectacle. Scott is kind of a dick. He doesn’t know what he wants in life, he mopes, and he cheats on Knives to be with Ramona. It’s a tough thing to pull off, making Scott such a flawed character, yet expecting us to root for him. But Michael Cera was born to play this role. The bad rap against Cera, that he plays the same part over and over again and that he can’t act, infuriates me, since, to be honest, Denzel Washington, George Clooney, Cary Grant and countless other actors play the same part over and over again as well. There’s nothing wrong with developing an acting persona and doing different variations on it. Not everybody can be Daniel Day-Lewis. Cera is a great comedic actor, with his deadpan delivery and perfect comedic timing. I can’t think of another actor who could play this role, which is the key to any great performance. In a tougher spot is Winstead as Ramona; since Scott literally has to risk his life for her, and we have to believe that he would do so. Ramona is obviously inspired by Kate Winslet in “Eternal Sunshine” with her changing hair color and impulsive nature, but Winstead is such a vivid and flawed heroine that their relationship cuts through the stylized universe to create a bond that signifies the pain of betrayal and the endless possibilities of young love. The supporting cast is also pretty fantastic, with Pill and Culking being the major stand-outs, elevating deadpan dismissals to an art form.
I could go on even longer on why I adore this film, but I think it is something one should experience for themselves. Roger Ebert said when he first saw The Beatles’ “A Hard Day’s Night,” he said it was the (I’m paraphrasing here) greatest, most infectious display of cinematic joy he had ever seen. Since I’ve seen “Scott Pilgrim,” I know what he’s talking about.
P.S.: I will likely post a review of The Avengers next week. I cannot wait to see that thing.