Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

Precisely drawn hipster farce whose rich characters all have inner lives, motivations and tortuous backstories

Aug 18, 2010 at 12:00 am

You're not ready for Scott Pilgrim's awesomeness. If you're a square, a snob or just a gloomy Gus, then you probably won't get the movie's kinetic collage of arch comedy, videogame tropes, fuzzy punk pop, balls-out action, visual razzle-dazzle and romantic notebook scribbles. Yes, Scott Pilgrim is hipper than thou, but, face it, you were never that hip to begin with.

To viewers of a certain age it'll play as utter gibberish, but that's understandable, as it's basically in an alien language. Where once the Jets and Sharks would break into dance when things got tense, now Scott and his foes and pals explode into spasms of hyper-brutality whenever real (grown-up) feelings push them from their ironically detached comfort zones. This shorthand for the emotional violence of young love is in its own right a dizzying amalgam of manga, Nintendo and kung fu flicks, so expertly rendered it damn near knocks the wind out of you.

Michael Cera might be an unlikely action hero, but he has become the millennial everyman, and here he plays a sweetly goofy Toronto rocker whose already complicated love life becomes chaotic when his new dream girl decrees that he must fight her seven evil exes.

Scott is a devout slacker, a shirker, a heartbreaker and only a passable bassist. By most definitions he's somewhat unexceptional, but here he's the hero, his name sits atop the title, and all characters revolve around him.

Scott scandalizes his friends by "dating" a high school girl delightfully named "Knives" Chau (Ellen Wong), though their courtship is purely cheek-kissing chaste. All that's gone at a party when Scott meets a teleporting, snarky and purple-haired temptress named Ramona Flowers (Elizabeth Winstead), the perfect gal, except that her dating résumé's filled with unbalanced, ninja-powered lunatics ready to crush Scott into a fine paste.

When you're 23, your relative level of coolness is basically a superpower, which manifests here in delightfully clever ways.  When Scott punches someone especially hard, they're a falling pile of coins, video game style. Ramona's hilarious evil ex number three (Brandon Routh) is possessed of "vegan powers," and his refusal to eat animal products grants him psychic strength (though a shot of half-and-half instead of soy milk in his latte works like kryptonite). Other deadly rivals are played hysterically by Chris Evans and Jason Schwartzman. Elsewhere, the characters are broadly drawn hipster cartoons with rich inner lives, motivations and tortuous back stories, all played by a murderer's row of young Hollywood talent whose names you should know: Aubrey Plaza, Kieran Culkin, Alison Pill and Anna Kendrick.

The rich source material is Bryan Lee O'Malley's cult-sensational graphic novel collections — which are a guaranteed gateway drug to hook your girlfriend on comic books.

Director Edgar Wright is the right guy too; his strength for geeky references and smart parody is unmatched, see Shaun of the Dead or Hot Fuzz. Wright goes several steps beyond here, converting the books' quirky art into endlessly inventive sight gags. Characters "level up" when they do something cool, captions linger in the air, and truly awesome music notes become dragons. Wright essentially rights everything that Speed Racer got wrong, making it one of the most successful panel-to-film frame translations ever, alongside American Splendor and 300. The director crams six volumes of plot into 112 minutes, and devotees will note the compression, but like a pocket-sized iPod loaded with five thousand great tunes, the tradeoff is acceptable. The fights do drone on a bit, and the whole product is so relentlessly funny, smart and high-energy that you may need a stamina boost by the halfway point. Flawless victory.

Corey Hall writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].