Thursday, August 19, 2010

611 - Scott Pilgrim vs. the World review

“Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” is a dazzling, starry-eyed rush of a romance, the frames adorned with the digital effects and imagination-tingling colors of a classic video game. There’s so much to behold visually and so much to laugh with that one can almost forget that the film’s actually a thoughtful story of maturity and coming to terms with the faults of others and oneself.

Directed by Edgar Wright (“Shaun of the Dead,” “Hot Fuzz”) and adapted from a series of graphic novels, the film’s injected with a constant awareness and affection for pop culture, from the video game graphics that often accompany the characters (life bars, coins for overcoming challenges) to unexpected flourishes, such as a popular sitcom beat that opens a scene. If Quentin Tarantino’s films synthesize pop culture into art that’s nakedly about itself, then Wright’s films wrap that same culture around stories that address real issues (“Hot Fuzz” concerned a critique of certain British cultural insularity, for example).

The titular Scott Pilgrim is a 22-year-old bassist, medium on the talent and light on the maturity. Pressed with breaking up with an adorable girl that fancies him, he can only remark “It’s haaard.” This is Wright’s sort of person an affable loser from a contemporary society that treats people as children until their early 30’s. It’s because of Scott that the video game motif gains poignancy; this generation often associates mixes its emoting with the simulated, with interactive representations of life gaining much of the value of the real thing.

Scott is played by Michael Cera, who has become the subject of endless complaints about typecasting. “He always plays the same role,” I hear, as if an actor selecting parts that suit his talents is galling. What’s often left unmentioned is how effective Cera is at modulating his onscreen persona to fit the tone; in this year’s “Youth in Revolt,” he played both hapless and scoundrel to great effect. Here he wears Scott Pilgrim like a glove, someone likeable yet in need of growth. I’m unsure what his career has in store for him and us, but this is sure to be one of his most referenced roles, the one where he becomes a sort of anti-action hero action hero.

The film plays quite effectively with genre, segueing from comedy to romance and into a sort of zany action thriller with surprising ease. Scott’s life takes a turn for the difficult when he meets Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a purple-haired geek bombshell who reluctantly returns his affection. What she neglects to mention is the League of Evil Exes, a consortium of her past romantic interest who seek to kill her future love life by killing her present lover. Scott’s progressively difficult fights with the exes are framed as video game clashes, replete with martial arts moves, colorful violence, a bombastic announcer. The visually arresting device does suffer wear by the film’s lengthy climax, but

It’s a delicate balancing act of aggressive style and thematic seriousness that ultimately renders “Scott Pilgrim” so touching and exciting. Even after Scott’s bested every level, there’s a note of ambiguousness, one that addresses how maturity has more to do with looking forward than backward. This just might wind up as one of the defining films of the first video game generation, for those who care about such a thing.

4 out of 5

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