Saturday, August 14, 2010

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: Review 4.5/5

Let me be the first to say that watching this film, I realized that the marketing for this week's movies has been off. "The Expendables", contrary to popular belief, is not the manliest movie being released this weekend. That title belongs to Edgar Wright's comic book adaptation "Scott Pilgrim vs. The World". Why? Because unlike "The Expendables", a movie about shit blowing up with the action stars of yesteryear running around, "Scott Pilgrim", like it's graphic novel counterpart, is a movie about growing up and being a man. Like my colleague Kristen Sales, the comics the film is based on affected me emotionally and personally. Not only is the story very sincere and heartfelt, but it's also hilarious. For my money, not only is "Scott Pilgrim" one of the most visually stunning films of the year with some of the best action sequences in a movie this year, but it's also the most heartfelt and hilarious comedy of 2010. In fact, it's the funniest movie I've seen in years. 
For those unfamiliar with the plot, here's the lowdown. Scott Pilgrim is a 23-year old kid living in Toronto. He's unemployed, "dating" a 17-year old chinese girl named Knives Chau, and he's in a band, playing bass. He shares an apartment with his gay best friend Wallace Wells. However, they're both so poor they have to share a bed (making for hilariously awkward moments). Soon, he encounters Ramona Flowers, a girl with fuschia hair he sees in a dream, and then miraculously encounters in real life at a party. For some reason, he is drawn to her, so much so that upon discovering that she works for Amazon as a delivery girl, he immediately orders some CDs so that she will come to his front door so he can ask her out. Again this makes for some hilarious awkwardness. She accepts, and after a first date, she comes to see his band perform. However, the performance is interrupted by Matthew Patel, Ramona's first evil ex. Scott learns he must defeat all seven of her evil exes.

Sound stylized? That's because it is. Very much so. The story starts off in reality, save for awesome comic book inspired visuals here and there, but it quickly becomes something of a video game/comic book mashup inspired world, one that definitely adheres to those mediums' physics and fantasy. Let it be clear that the film is not a dream or anything of the sort. It's all fantasy, pure and simple. But it's what grounds that fantasy that makes the film work on so many levels. 

As I said before, the film, like the comics, is absolutely hilarious. I almost gave myself a hernia laughing so hard during this movie. The comic timing is pretty much perfect in every way. What we are seeing here is director Edgar Wright really in his element. His previous efforts "Shaun of the Dead" and "Hot Fuzz" were hilarious as well, but "Scott Pilgrim" shows him evolving as an artist and really nailing down his gift for action comedy. It would be hard for me to recite any of the jokes here on pages because the film is so visual. JUst go see the damn thing and read the comics, you will be laughing your ass off. 

At the same time, hilarity is a moot point without heart to back it up, and boy does this movie have heart. This may just be the single most joyful and positive film you'll see all year. I was literally smiling for the entire thing. Not just because it's such a wonderful, entertaining, hilarious film, but hearing all my favorite lines and characters from the comics was such a joy. Ultimately though, this is the most endearing live action film I've seen all year long. It gives "How to Train Your Dragon" and "Toy Story 3" a run for their money in the heart department. 

A lot of concerns have been addressed over the casting, particularly Michael Cera, often criticized for being one-note. I'm not sure that's entirely true, but there have been times he seems to be going through the motions. Not here. In this film, he is Scott Pilgrim, in every way, shape, and form. He's a jerk, at least for the majority of the film, despite his underdog appearance. He may be the nicest guy Ramona has ever dated, but still an idiotic jerk. He embodies Scott so well that I sometimes, believe it or not, forgot it was Cera. Mary Elizabeth Winstead was perfect for Ramona, who is stripped of a much more extended courtship with Scott in the film, but she still manages to pull off the emotional and psychological complexities of the character with grace and subtlety. That, and she is drop dead gorgeous. Sidenote, her initials are MEW. How adorable is that? Brandon Routh and Ellen Wong were standouts for me, as Todd Ingram and Knives Chau, respectively. Routh's performance as Superman was hindered by a boring, depressing script, but he shows a real talent for comedy here. His back and forth between Pilgrim about the cleaning lady was priceless. Ellen Wong really turns it up to eleven and makes for the perfect Knives Chau, going from obsessed girlfriend to psycho stalker ex so perfectly that it just makes you laugh your ass off at the awkward hilarity of her character. But as I said earlier, the entire cast is perfect, so let's not spend too much time on this. But I must say, the cameos by Thomas Jane and Clifton Collins Jr. as the Vegan Police was pure comedy gold. 

If I had any nitpicks, it's simply that I miss the more epic scope of the comics, which take place over a year's worth of time, whereas the film condenses the story into a couple of weeks. Not a bad thing, and the condensing works so beautifully that it's hard to dock it for such a thing. I just miss the bigger scope of the comics. Also, the film tends to move at such a fast pace that dialogue and jokes fly by so fast you won't catch them all since you're too busy laughing at the line from two seconds ago. I may be wrong about this, as film I am excited for always seem shorter the first time I see them. In any case, the film just felt like it was moving at such a break-neck pace that I can see some might get lost. One last thing, though this isn't a flaw of the movie itself, more of an observation. The film will not appeal to everyone. In fact, a lot of the visual cues and culture references might be lost on those who didn't grow up on comics, video games, etc. However, the film works so well and flows so nicely that it's just pure bliss at times, so these nitpicks are minor at best. 

What "Scott Pilgrim" has that separates it from the pack is a whole lot of heart. Here is a film without a single cynical bone in it's body. I imagine this hyper-positive style may turn some off, but really, it's just a joy to watch. Go see it and fall in love. It's so damned entertaining and joyous it's hard not to. 


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