Friday, September 3, 2010

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

So yes, as promised, here is my early choice for 2010’s Best Picture. Now admittedly, it is still pretty early in the year as these things go -- if nothing else, the various film companies don’t start tossing out their Oscar bait until November at the earliest -- but as this has been a remarkably piss-poor year for movies so far, and as I am never shy about championing silly cult movies over Serious Drama, I feel confident that it’s at least going to make my top three for the year. The fact it’s free falling out of theaters only proves my point further somehow. I think. Possibly.
The film stars Michael Cera as Scott Pilgrim, early 20s Canadian slacker and bassist, who has spent over a year in a terrible depression after a terrible break-up, and who now has finally gotten over it by dating a high school girl (Ellen Wong). While this certainly seems like a probable long-term solution, he soon finds himself obsessed with new girl in town Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and quickly moves on to her, only to discover that she has a bit of baggage coming along with her: namely, her seven evil exes that Scott must now defeat if he wishes to win her heart.

It seems like a fairly standard romance plot, yes, but what’s surprising is in how well it blurs the lines between film and comic book and video game. The film is based on the comic book series by Bryan Lee O’Malley (indeed, the film’s only real weakness comes from how rushed it gets at points trying to cram all six graphic novels into less than two hours) and takes quite a few visual clues from its source material. Additionally, since the comic had such a love affair with video games, the movie itself winds up structured like one, with each successive ex introduced like a boss fight, complete with a Street Fighter style Vs. image on screen. Indeed, it even opens up with the intro music for Zelda 3, something that has made me break out into a huge grin each time I’ve watched the movie.

Which is not to say that that’s really all the movie has going for it. Really, it excels in virtually every department. The music is quite well done, which is a plus since a large part of the film involves Scott’s band Sex Bob-Omb engaging in a series of Battle of the Bands. The soundtrack was designed by Beck, who also made all the music for Scott’s band, and roped in Canadian bands like Broken Social Scene and Metric to contribute songs for their competitors, making it, if nothing else, possibly the best movie about music in quite some time.

The cast is also spot on. Michael Cera does a great job adapting his normal nerdy persona into a more multi-functional character that’s nerdy, tough, heroic, and kind of a complete jerk to the girls he dates. His supporting cast also does fine work as well: Ellen Wong is completely heartbreaking at times as his seventeen year old girlfriend that he tosses aside when he finds someone new, and his gay roommate Wallace (Keiran Culkin) straight up steals every scene he’s in. Given how poorly the film did, I doubt co-writer/director Edgar Wright will ever get to make a sequel like he wanted to, but if the stars align enough to get a deal made, I can only hope Wallace is the lead. Winstead also does well enough in a fairly thankless role where she basically has to look adorable and find some way to frequently say bitchy things without actually coming off as unlikable. It’s a tough role, but I think she did pull it off pretty well.

Indeed, as I said before, the only area the film is lacking in is its story. That’s the story, mind you, not the script. The script is mostly wonderful, giving us a ton of great jokes, a fast pace, some nice character moments, and a lot of great action scenes (if you were wondering, yes, in addition to its other qualities this is a much better action movie than The Expendables). Unfortunately, due to its hyper-compressed nature the story largely winds up being outright tossed aside in the second half of the film to make way for all of the fights with the evil exes. This is hardly a crippling flaw, as the first half does such a great job of setting up the ground work, but it would have been nice to have had Scott and Ramona’s romance fleshed out a bit more, or really just more time for the rest of the supporting cast to show themselves off. Especially Wallace.

I suppose I can see how some people would have a problem figuring out how to handle the film, as it really is unlike any other movie ever made, though it may help if I point out that right now, after a couple decades of misfires and complete bombs, we finally have what is not only a good, but is an outright perfect video game movie. Both structurally and stylistically Wright manages to work in all the best parts of video gaming, creating a pretty seamless visual feast. Much like his previous films Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, he manages to simultaneously poke fun at and honor the genre he’s working with (unlike the much more popular film Vampires Suck, which does neither), giving us a movie that all video games fans (most particularly but not exclusively the 8-bit and 16-bit veterans) owe it to themselves to see. None of you will be disappointed, I guarantee you.

Rating: ****

P.S. Next week: Q & A time.

No comments: