The following review originally was written for The Parallax Review, a film review site of which I was the co-founder and managing editor. I have decided to collect the writings I did for The Parallax Review and preserve them here. I will be posting a few of these older pieces every week. My review of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World was for the “In Theatres” section of The Parallax Review.
by Matt Wedge, Managing Editor
With his first two films, Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, writer-director Edgar Wright created spoofs/homage to very specific film genres. At first glance, it would appear that Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is taking a similar joking/loving approach to the romantic comedy genre. But Wright is not interested in exploring the clichés of the genre. With its mash-up of one-liners, sight gags, smash cuts, absurd whimsy, film references, and honest emotions, the film is more reminiscent of Wright’s beloved cult sitcom, Spaced.
Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) is a 22-year-old slacker living in Toronto. He is unemployed and broke, forced to share a studio apartment (and bed) with his friend, Wallace (Kieran Culkin). He plays bass in a band that includes his sarcastic ex-girlfriend, Kim (Alison Pill). In order to get over a painful break-up, he has begun dating a high school girl named Knives Chau (Ellen Wong). Knives dotes on him and is pleasant and uncomplicated, which is what Scott thinks he wants in the wake of the damage his previous relationship did to him. The only problem is that Scott is really not that interested in Knives and has dreams about a girl with pink hair who he believes is his destiny. When he meets this dream girl in the flesh at a party, he immediately begins the process of winning her over.
It turns out that the dream girl is named Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). She is prickly and moody and only shows the slightest interest in Scott. But when Scott’s charms start to win her over, the problems really begin. Not only does Scott have to find some way to break up with Knives that doesn’t involve completely breaking her heart, he discovers that Ramona’s exes have formed an alliance with the sole purpose of killing anyone that she dates.
If this all sounds slightly convoluted and more than a little silly, that’s because it is. But I mean that in the best way possible. In Wright’s hands, this material transforms into a giddy, sugar-rush of a movie. Taking visual cues from video games, Chuck Jones cartoons, and the ’60s Batman TV series, Wright creates a kinetic comedy of absurdity that never forgets to honor the emotions of the characters. To put it simply, he manages to make an extremely goofy comedy that somehow is able to stay a character piece in the face of overwhelming silliness. This is the type of film that can feature an outlandish Bollywood sequence, complete with dancing demon babes, one minute and lets you feel Knives’s heartbreak at Scott’s rejection the next minute. It’s a tricky balancing act, but Wright handles it with skill.
The film could use some tightening up in the second act as Scott’s fights with the exes start to feel a little repetitive. Still, Wright casts these roles with such perfect cameos (Chris Evans, Brandon Routh, Mae Whitman) that he manages to keep the personalities fresh, even as he falls back on anime style for the fights one too many times.
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is a jolt of pure entertainment in a summer movie season that desperately needed it. I thought I knew what to expect going into the film, but I was surprised, touched, and elated by the imagination on display. It’s silly, flirts with being too hip for its own good, and revels in the geekiness that comes with video games and indie-rock, but Wright keeps a sure hand on the wheel and brings the whole thing home with expert precision. I expected a good film and got a great one. That doesn’t happen very often.
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