Program Notes: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010)
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For a film that’s almost entirely substance-free, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is surprisingly enjoyable.
But then it had some pretty heady source material.
Scott Pilgrim is a six-part graphic novel written and largely drawn by Bryan Lee O’Malley between 2004 and 2010. Inspired by the Japanese manga style of cartooning, the series about a Canadian slacker/rock guitarist battling to win the hand of his beloved has sold millions of copies.
Scott Pilgrim’s main attraction is its hilariously hip sensibility, which in 2010 won O’Malley an Eisner (the comic book equivalent of an Oscar) for Best Humor Publication.
The 2010 film version released by director Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) covers the entire six-volume series, although the end is different from the comic book because the movie was made before O’Malley could finish writing his tale.
It’s about a Toronto dweeb (Michael Cera, Hollywood’s reigning dweeb du jour) smitten by delivery girl Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), who has punky Day-Glo hair and an attitude of studied indifference.
There’s a catch. Ramona informs Scott that she has had a colorful romantic past and that to win her hand he must battle and defeat her “seven evil exes.”
These opponents range from a skateboarding movie action star (Chris Evans) and a vegan master of telekinesis (Brandon Routh) to a lesbian martial artist (Mae Whitman) and a sleazy Svengali who might actually be Satan himself (Jason Schwartzman).
Scott’s brawls with these rivals are patterned after the fights in video games. An onscreen counter keeps track of the score; when Scott delivers a fatal blow his opponent explodes in a shower of gold coins.
No, it doesn’t make much sense. Get used to it.
Nor, for that matter, does Scott’s magnetism for women. The guy looks like and has all the personality of a fetus, but the ladies think he’s pure catnip. (Look at it this way ... Michael Cera gives hope to hopeless guys everywhere.)
Scott Pilgrim is so hip and ironic that it hasn’t time for anything as mundane as common sense or recognizable emotion. Ostensibly it’s a romance, but don’t expect to actually feel anything in that department.
What the movie does have is an astonishingly high energy level. This may be the most caffeinated movie ever, filled with furious and ironic editing, eruptions of cartoonish special effects, and a guitar-screeching alt-rock soundtrack.
There are also a handful of really funny supporting performers. Foremost among them is Kieran Culkin, who steals his every scene as Wallace, Scott’s uber-hip gay roommate. A running joke has the very straight Scott awakening each morning to find himself sharing the apartment’s sole bed with Wallace and an ever-growing assortment of men.
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World can’t entirely escape its own diminishing returns. There’s a limit to how far hip will take you, and Wright and company pretty much squeeze out every drop.
But getting there sure is fun.
About the Author
Robert W. Butler is a lifelong Kansas City area resident, a graduate of Shawnee Mission East High School and the William Allen White School of Journalism at the University of Kansas. For several decades he was the movie editor of the Kansas City Star; he now writes a movie-themed blog at butlerscinemascene.com. He joined the Library's Public Affairs team in 2012.