Friday, August 20, 2010

'Scott Pilgrim' is geek heaven

“Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” is a hybrid movie. It is part comic book, part video game, part anime, part romantic comedy, part rock musical and whole enjoyable.

The set-up for the story is pretty basic: boy meets girl, boy falls for girl, boy must fight for girl's love. In this case, our hero Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) quite literally fights off Ramona Flowers' (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) seven evil exes in order to win her love.

Although literally is perhaps the wrong word. The characters in the film live in a heightened reality that follows the logic of 16-bit video games of 1980s and 1990s. Everyone in the film accepts this reality, but essentially, the film is a giant allegory for the trials and tribulations of dating.

The film, based on a series of graphic novels by Bryan Lee O'Malley, is a rather shrewd look at the early stages of dating and the awkwardness of running into a significant other's ex. We all dream about what we'd like to do in these situations. “Scott Pilgrim” simply puts us squarely within the protagonist's video game and comic book fueled fantasies.

This marks English filmmaker Edgar Wright's first American production (although it is set in Toronto). In his previous films “Shaun of the Dead and “Hot Fuzz,” Wright showed a knack for deadpan humor, strong visuals and blending genres. Here, though, he attains another level.

Wright uses the old “Batman” series approach of having words like “pow” pop up on screen, but takes it a step further and has the words “ding dong” appear when a doorbell is pressed or “ring” when a telephone rings. It is done in a way that is both clever and refreshes an old idea.

The fights are staged like fighting games such as “Street Fighter” or “Mortal Kombat,” albeit entirely bloodless. These are brightly visualized and this is probably the first film to approach the look, feel and fun of a video game.

Wright really is a perfect match for the material and in many ways this a big budget, more stylized version of “Spaced,” the TV series he created with Simon Pegg and Jessica Hynes. Both “Scott Pilgrim” and “Spaced” are about arty pop-cultured obsessed 20-somethings trying to sort out life and love. That could describe any number of films and TV shows, but those familiar with the series will see a similar tone and style in the dynamic of the characters.

The film is basically a series of fights, but there's also a surprisingly amount of character development. We care about Scott and Ramona. Before meeting Ramona, Scott was dating the fabulous named Knives Chau (Ellen Wong), a 17-year-old high school girl, and an odd love triangle forms. Knives isn't merely a throwaway character, and, while Scott is fighting not only for love but self-respect, she is going on her own parallel journey.

Winstead's Ramona isn't a flatly written love interest. She is struggling with leaving her past behind, finding out who she is and learning to trust. On occasion she steps up to fight for Scott, so it isn't a one-sided battle. Winstead has a vibrant screen presence, but isn't merely a pretty face. She has some excellent comic timing and delivery.

The film is also populated by great supporting characters. Kieran Culkin is a scene-stealing deadpan delight as Scott's gay roommate. His dry deliver is impeccably spot-on as is Alison Pill as the drummer of the band Scott is in.

Then there are the exes themselves, who include future Captain America Chris Evans and former Superman Brandon Routh. Evans as an action star does a great job parodying arrogant actors and Routh amuses as a dimwit with psychic abilities he gains from being a vegan. Jason Schwartzman shows up as the final ex and clearly relishes playing a cocky, cynical, sleazy villain.

Cera gets a lot of flak for giving the same performance in every film, which really isn't fair. He has a persona he plays, but he does have range within that persona. It isn't like Cera is the first actor to get famous doing variations on the same act, and he's very good at what he does. He has a fast-paced line delivery that really works, but he also knows where to pause and let a line breathe. Here he gets to show a slightly tougher edge alongside his usual awkward nice guy routine, and he pulls it off nicely.

“Scott Pilgrim” won't be for everyone, but it will have a very loyal following. This is a movie for geeks, and they will embrace it wholeheartedly. This geek certainly did.

No comments: