Sunday, August 15, 2010

The World is Not Enough

Edgar Wright's adaptation of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2010) has charm to burn and a boundless energy. Of the films released this summer that are intended to be "fun," it's the one that delivers on its promise. The premise is fun: Slacker Scott Pilgrim falls for new girl in town Ramona Flowers and has to contend with her seven evil exes. The notion that someone has a League of Evil Exes is pretty funny. The execution is fun, too, a collision of special effects, clever editing, animation, music videos, and video games. It's a coming out party for an entire cadre of up and coming young actors. This is the next generation of filmmaking.

It's also kind of exhausting, but that comes from exhilaration rather than abuse.

Surprisingly, the two lead characters aren't exactly the most likable people on the planet. Scott is a congenial freeloader and indifferent boyfriend when we meet him. He's dating Knives Chau, a Chinese teenager who is still attending a Catholic high school. He lives with his gay friend, Wallace, in a tiny fleabag apartment. He doesn't have a job, but he does play in a band. He's the bassist for Sex Bob Omb, and garage band culture gives the movie an excuse to mount an absolutely killer soundtrack. Ramona, for herself, is gorgeous, but indifferent and aloof, the kind of girl who always does the dumping. The people around Scott are all finely drawn characters: His impatient younger sister is exasperated that he's still an arrested adolescent. His bandmates, Stephen Stills (an eager sellout of a lead guitarist/singer), Young Neil (Scott's understudy on bass), and Kim Pine (formerly one of Scott's girlfriends and completely sarcastic about their band and their lifestyle). Wallace turns the gay best friend on its head, in so far as he actually gets laid--frequently--while the rest of the cast languishes. And then there are the evil exes: Matthew Patel, gets his own Bollywood number complete with demonic hipster chicks for backup (did I mention that the film is a mash-up? Oh, yeah). Lucas Lee is the epitome of the clueless action actor who lets his stunt team do the heavy lifting. Todd Ingram derives his evil powers from his insufferable veganism (which proves his undoing). Roxy Richter is the living avatar of a woman scorned, surprising Scott with Ramona's bi-curious phase (Roxy is "bi-furious"). The Katayangi twins are Scott's nemeses at a battle of the bands. And the big boss at the end--to use video game parlance--is Gideon Graves, a smarmy music promoter who corrupts everything he touches and everything that Scott loves. This all almost too much for the movie to hold, given that it's condensed down from six graphic novels.

One wishes that Michael Cera would have overreached himself for this movie, but he's more or less playing the Michael Cera character, though he's less passive than usual. It helps that Scott Pilgrim is an action hero. It's a credit to the filmmakers that they're able to more or less effortlessly convince the audience that, yes, Cera can actually be an action hero. This is possibly the filmmaker's best sleight of hand. Everyone else in the cast is pitch perfect, though. Allison Pill provides my favorite performance as Kim Pine, but only slightly behind her is Brandon Routh, looking all superheroic as Todd Ingram. I suppose it befits an actor who made a splash playing superman. He gets the insufferable veganism right, too. Hell, there's not really a bad performance in the bunch, and not really a bad character, either. The villains all get to chew scenery with abandon, but the movie is so outlandish that it would see wrong if they DID dial it back.

For his part, Wright has more or less put whatever he's wanted on screen. The trope whereby the evil exes turn into piles of coins when they're defeated comes right from video games and it's silly as hell, but Wright charges on with it with a Godardian "fuck it." The matching edits are almost all unexpected and witty. Wright doesn't feel constrained by naturalism, and bully for him. One of the mistakes that a lot of movies based on comic books make is to try to shoehorn themselves into some kind of realistic presentation. This movie doesn't even pay that approach lip service, and it still manages to get to the core of its characters (and, for that matter, to the core of comics), and it still manages to approximate a longing for love that's entirely beyond many more conventional romantic comedies. I mean, while it's all really silly, its take no prisoners love conquers all narrative is unstoppable.

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