Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Review: Scott Pilgrim vs The World (2010)

Director: Edgar Wright
Starring: Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Ellen Wong, Jason Schwartzman


"You're pretentious, this club sucks, I have beef. Let's fight."
-Scott Pilgrim

I am so out of loop with popular culture. What the hell is Scott Pilgrim? Who is he? I was first introduced to this franchise by seeing the commercial for the movie when I was watching The Big Bang Theory. It looked like an interesting enough plot – a kid has to fight his girlfriend’s seven evil exes to date her and keep her. I didn’t know if it’d be good, bad, whatever…but it piqued my interest. So I figured I would go see it in the theaters when it finally came out. And what’s my take?

I…think my mind was just blown when I saw this. It was so crazy and so over the top that I had no idea what to make of it. Starring the apparently infamous Michael Cera, this weird little action/romance story is told in a highly strange and stylized fashion. When a new scene starts, they often pop up a little black comic-book-esque box by them with white text explaining some facts about them, often humorously. Scenes vary wildly in length, some lasting five minutes and others less than one. The movie likes to parody video games and use terminology and clichés from them to further the story – in one scene, the hero decides to stand up for himself and fight for himself over anyone else, and as he flaunts his newfound power, the words “Scott gained the power of self respect!” are narrated in a deep voice and flash on the screen in blinking neon.

See? I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like this. This movie is completely original. Well…except for the comic it’s based on, but shut up, I know what I’m talking about in this review!

Even the writing is completely off the wall. In the first few scenes, the titular Scott Pilgrim (Cera) has a conversation with his band (made up of a token regular guy named Stephen, a stoic, monotone redheaded chick named Kim and a guy named Young Neil, who is not in the band, but just lives at the house they play in) about inviting his new “fake high school girlfriend” Knives into the house while they play. They’re really concerned that she’ll break up their nerd-dom and not be able to handle it. The dialogue is so winding and so convoluted with things that would just be otherwise retarded or ridiculous. Like when Ramona says “I was just a little bi-curious,” the enemy character replies “Well, I’m just a little bi-FURIOUS!” That line is so horrible that I’d want to smack whoever wrote it. But in this movie, I’ll buy it. I really will.

I will now go through some of the exceptionally noteworthy scenes in this movie:

There’s one scene where Scott beats a Vegan opponent by making him drink milk, I think it was, that turns out to violate the ‘Vegan Police’ code, getting him stripped of his ‘Vegan powers.’ I couldn’t make this up, people. There’s the all-time special effects wonder of the world when Scott and his band face off against the dastardly and short-lived threat of the Kazayanagi brothers, resulting in a chaotic explosion of shining beast-like holograms, neon lights and multi-colored fire that will make your eyes bleed with how cool it is. And there’s one scene near the end when Scott has to fight his ‘negative self’ for some reason that nobody really cares about, because it’s awesome either way. It cuts away to Ramona and Knives outside when Scott walks out with his ‘negative-self’, joking and laughing like old friends. Scott says that his negative self is a really nice guy.

See? I love the comedy in this movie. It’s so innocuous and so dorky that it becomes absolutely side-splitting when it’s at its best. It’s just great, it really is.

The acting is good. People will bash on Michael Cera whenever they get the chance, but he does a really good job here. His delivery is hilarious and his facial expressions are always really funny with how naïve they are. I’m not familiar with a lot of his movies, but he does good here. I can tell you that. Mary Winstead as love interest Ramona is wonderful, as she is good looking and versatile – funny when the movie calls for it and also soft and vulnerable or cold as ice whenever needed, too. Kieran Culkin and Anna Kendrick bring up the backbone along with the delightful Alison Pil as Kim. And the seven exes are always over the top and fun, too.

So, detractors from the score? Well, I was amazed with how far up its own ass it could get when it really tries. That Vegan Police scene I mentioned above was about where the line was crossed, although it was already flirting with that when a girl’s hair highlights are literally punched out. These scenes are still enjoyable in their own way, but I can’t help but feel that the film kind of winds up in its own special effects and nerd-isms at times. But maybe that’s part of the appeal.

This film should in all respects suck a whole lot. But it works. It really works, in one of the most oddball fashions ever. All the film’s extravagances and eccentricities are done with a hefty sense of irony, but in the same way, even the irony is ironic, like they’re ribbing the kinds of snot-nosed indie films of this usual sort, in a good natured way. There’s also a ton of homage to video games and video game culture, as well as to anime and comic culture, too. It’s a delightful hodge-podge of influences that, combined with the film’s crazy exuberance, really makes an entertaining watch. The characters are delightful, the humor is spot on, the action is wondrous and the plot is a ton of fun. Scott Pilgrim is a winner. Revel in its supreme nerdery.