Running time: 112 min. Rating: PG-13 for stylized violence, sexual content, language and drug references. Directed by: Edgar Wright Written by: Michael Bacall and Edgar Wright
Starring: Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Brandon Routh, Chris Evans, Jason Schwartzman, Kieran Culkin, Ellen Wong, Allison Pill, Mark Webber, Anna Kendrick
In the hyperactive world of Scott Pilgrim, quite nearly anything is possible.
At one point in his new film, the haphazard Mr. Pilgrim and his less-than-stellar band, the enthusiastically named Sex Bo-omb! are playing in a battle of the amps and losing magnificently. Pushed beyond their limits and challenged at every turn, Scott and the rest channel their inner rockers, jamming in perfect unison. Their concentrated vigor manifests itself as a giant electric Yeti that gobbles up their adversaries.
Yes, it’s that kind of movie. Scott Pilgrim VS the World almost overdoses on terminal whimsy; the simple act of watching it like ingesting a whole bag of candy corn through your retinas. It tastes great going down, but you prepare yourself for an aftermath bellyache. With Edgar Wright’s witty, overheated take on the popular graphic novels, there’s no post-meal pain; you leave the theater still basking in the glow of the film’s singular brand of kookiness. To sum up, it’s like the greatest game of Mega Man you have ever played, if you were chugging Red Bull at the time and listening to as much kick-ass electronica as your eardrums could handle.
Of course, it isn’t enough for a film to merely provide geek pop citations or visual bubblegum if it really hasn’t anymore to offer. What works here, in its own way, are the characters and the lovingly detailed world they live in. Wright banged out a hit with Shaun of the Dead because he was cheerfully critiquing the slacker culture at the same time he was satirizing the zombie genre. With Scott Pilgirm, he’s tapping into the labirynthine pop history of today’s digital denizens and replicating their values and habits through the electronic zip of their technology. These characters, mostly twentysomethings, find themselves endlessly trapped in cycles of adolescent behavior.
The film looks amazing, capturing the freedom and unfiltered physical emotion–and motion– of a dynamic graphic novel. What really surprised me was how much I really dug the characters themselves. Of particular worry was Michael Cera, whose presence in film has been in a holding pattern since Super Bad, his very mannerisms and acting style pitched at a level of mild annoyance. He was a nebbish underdog originally, but after a time he simply became the bland leftovers of that snarky teen exodus that caught the last train out with Juno.
For Pilgrim, Cera takes that level of irritation and grinds it against our psyche right from the outset. I was convinced there was no possible way to root for a character like Scott but Wright proves me wrong by revolving the story around his eventual awakening. Cera doesn’t step too far out of the comfort zone, but he’s a natural for this project and he does the part proud. Mary Elizabeth Winstead, prettier than her goth accoutrements here let on, is slightly subdued as Ramona, the gal with the seven evil exes. She is a good foil for Cera, and counteracts his nervousness with an appealing mix of sincerity and erratic indecision. It’s easy to see whyScott would be wary of her one moment and ready to weild a flaming sword of self-esteem in the movie’s final climactic battle.
The rest of the players are all good, but the stand-outs of the main cast are Kieran Culkin as Pilgrim’s gay, carousing roomate and Ellen Wong as the 17 yr old Knives, the high schooler being strung along by Scott after an exceptionally hard break-up. Both Culkin and Wong have grasped the central rhythm of the film, and they fit the characters into it. In particular, I thought Wong had more punk-rock pizazz and tragi-comic angst than Winstead’s Ramona. Wong even accentuates her mannerisms to mime the distortions of classic manga art. I was left wondering if her eyes really do go that big naturally, and apparently its legit; they do.
Brandon Routh, Chris Evans, Jason Schwartzman and others amusingly chomp at the scenery as the League of Evil Exes. I personally loved the way Routh’s mega-vegan is not-so-subtly lampooning his maligned turn as Superman a few years back. With each new ex, Wright ups the visual ante, making his transitions less flashy and more sturdy, and ebbing away the 2-D flattening of the film in favor of a fully dimensional video game arena. As the dramatic stakes go up so does the fever-pitch intensity.
Like other wild-eyed rides before it (Kamikaze Girls, Speed Racer) Scott Pilgirm dares to get lost in the zany orbit of its contrivances. Yes, it may have its head wedged in its own butt, but it discovers up there a tilting world of sugar-coated crazy.