THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
"SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD"
Michael Cera fights Jason Schwartzman.
If you took an old school video game, a comic book, a music video, and some Japanese manga, mixed them all up in a blender, then made a movie about it, you'd have Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. Based on Bryan Lee O'Malley's graphic novel series and directed by Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz), this is a movie unlike any you've ever seen before. It doesn't just have style, it has attitude.
Michael Cera plays the title character, an aspiring rock musician whose band, Sex Bob-Omb, is looking to hit the big time. After getting his heart broken by a female musician who went on to become a star, Scott begins dating a high schooler named Knives Chau (Ellen Wong), much to the consternation of his sister Stacey (Anna Kendrick) and gay roommate Wallace (Kieran Culkin). Scott's interest in Knives is short-lived once he has a chance encounter with the enigmatic Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a free spirit whose hair changes color weekly. Against all odds, Ramona is interested in Scott as well, but there's a hitch: in order to date her, he will first have to fight and defeat her "seven evil exes."
Scott does not picture himself as much of a fighter, yet there's no way to avoid doing battle. The exes coincidentally keep materializing in front of him. They include an action movie star named Lucas Lee (Chris Evans), a vegan with psychic powers (Brandon Routh), and Ramona's "bi-curious" fling, Roxy Richter (Mae Whitman). The most deadly enemy of all is Gideon Graves (Jason Schwartzman), a famous record producer who, under different circumstances, Scott would love to be in business with. Gideon actually wants Ramona back.
Now, that's the plot, but the experience of watching Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is only half about plot. The other half is about style. Edgar Wright tells the story in a visual format that alternately looks like a comic book and a video game. Certain scenes have the look of a comic, with multiple "panels" on the screen simultaneously and sound effects written as text above the characters' heads. The fight scenes, meanwhile, are staged to look like they came right out of the old Mortal Kombat video game. There's nothing realistic about them; it's as though real actors stepped into a Nintendo. When a character dies, they burst into coins and an on-screen point tally registers Scott's victory. In addition to these stylistic elements, Wright also uses multiple aspect ratios, rapid editing, and musical synchronization to punctuate what's happening.
The style is mesmerizing to watch (not to mention deeply admirable in conception). It is not, however, mere gimmick. Scott Pilgrim is a young man who experiences life through the prism of video games and comic books. The movie plays like we're seeing things through his sensibility. He can't even use the restroom without a "pee bar" measuring his progress. At times, it's dazzling how in-depth Wright goes; the level of detail is ingenious.
What's most cool is that the style is employed in service of the Scott/Ramona romance, which is actually quite touching. A lot of visual mayhem goes on around them, yet a clear emotional connection is made, and we in the audience can feel it. Cera gives one of his best performances here, largely shrugging off the "hesitant geek" persona he's carefully cultivated to this point. He shows us Scott's true affections for Ramona. Winstead (Death Proof) also finds humanity in her character. The evil exes are funny, but the actress makes us understand that Ramona is drawn to Scott because she wants a nice guy instead of the kind of lunkheads she's dated previously. The closest comparison I can make between overt visual style and true pathos is Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Like that movie, Scott Pilgrim manages to look entrancing without ever losing its humanity.
The supporting cast is terrific, with Kieran Culkin getting the most laughs as the wry Wallace, who continually tries to plant logic and reason into Scott's brain. The musical acts on the first-rate soundtrack are almost supporting characters themselves. Artists like Beck and Metric contribute the music that is so integrally married to the images.
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is an energetic ode to youthful preoccupations, as well as a fun 21st century romance. The pacing is lightning-fast, with jokes and references flying all over the place. Truth be told, there's so much going on that it's hard to absorb everything in one sitting. I felt a little overwhelmed at times. That said, I won't mind sitting through this hip, entertaining movie again and again. Scott Pilgrim is a true original, and I loved it.
( 1/2 out of four)
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is rated PG-13 for stylized violence, sexual content, language and drug references. The running time is 1 hour and 53 minutes.