Monday, August 23, 2010

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World Review


Overall Grade: C+
Playing like an amped up hybrid of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Kung Fu Hustle, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World triumphs when it appropriates the visual cleverness and silliness of the two aforementioned films, but fails in the delivery of its thematic and emotional content. In a film that revels in shorthand references, allow me to reference a tried but true criticism of films like this, "all style and no substance".
Michael Cera plays Scott Pilgrim, a young adult in search of a life and a new girlfriend. At a party he spots Ramona, and attempts at scoring a date with her. He eventually wins out, but there is a catch. Ramona has a bit of a past, and in order to date Ramona, Scott is forced to fight all seven of her evil ex's. You see, Scott has to fight off Ramona's past that keeps catching up to her and ruining her present, get it?
While I will get to my frustrations with the film, let me first commend several of the appealing aspects of this film. First off, the film is crisply edited and thought out. It is constantly moving, with pacing more reminiscent of Crank and framing reminiscent of the anime and arcade. Continuing the video game theme is the sound design and visual effects that are seamlessly integrated into not only the fight sequences, but throughout the whole film, including a stop in the restroom. It's topped off with several enjoyable performances including a scene stealing Jason Schwartzman.


What undermines the entire film is the 'weightlessness' of the universe that is ultimately created. While I am willing to suspend disbelief for the sake of an interesting premise (that there exists an super-powered league of ex-boyfriends), I'm not willing to buy into a universe that ultimately doesn't reflect the emotional weight and gravity of the real world. Let me explain further.
In what world, outside of Pilgrim's dreams, would someone like the neurotic, jobless, and mumbling Scott Pilgrim be able to land the relationships that he does? He's able to date a 17 year old high school student, Ramona 'the girl of his dreams' and apparently dated the popular lead singer of hot indie band. The film never provides a good reason for the attraction these girls have to him, and vice versa. At least the film attempts to make the girls good looking, providing some reason for Pilgrim's attraction to them. Redeeming character traits or good personalities are to much to ask for in the stylized world. After several awkward meets, Pilgrim essentially beds the 'girl of his dreams', until she puts an impromptu end to it. Even Pilgrim's gay roommate is shown bedding numerous men, including straight men, with nary a wink. These relationships are so light and meaningless, how does anyone (including the audience) really get upset or that emotional about any of them. Let alone enough to create an entire league of angry ex-boyfriends?
This same 'weightlessness' undermines what are technically proficient fight scenes as well. The film never provides sufficient reason why Pilgrim is able to fight (outside of a DDR game) at the onscreen ability shown, nor is there any gravity to the punches and falls he takes. What should be fun and entertaining (these sequences are better shot than ones in The Expendables, but are ultimately less meaningful) became dull as I just waited for them to play out. Nor is there any real connection made between why the entire universe is overlaid with video game graphics (as interesting as it is), except for the reason as to just be there. What's that? You say I should just look past it, and enjoy it because of the playful spirit?
While that may be true in regards to the fighting, it's unforgiveable when the film attempts real lessons at it's conclusion. In the climax of the film, Pilgrim is supposed to have discovered self respect and thus ultimately that the battles he is fighting in life is not for a 'woman' but for self-respect. While that's cute, it would be nice for the rest of the film to support that conclusion. What has Pilgrim come to respect about himself in the end? He is still the same neurotic, jobless, and mumbling guy as he was before. Even without this little thematic twist, the film still plays out exactly the same as if he was just fighting for the girl/ On top of that, what about Ramona's self respect? Does she have to stand by and watch as a boy fights to free her and earn his self respect? What about all the supporting characters who continue on in self-disrespecting lifestyles filled with vulgarity and cheating? Does real self respect and love exist in a world without gravity?
It's a shame because there is really a lot of good stuff on display in this film. By the climax, I really felt as though the film was exactly what you would get had you handed a geeky film student a large budget to make anything he wanted. What you end up with is a heavily stylized and 'cool' universe that floats along without scrutiny, but ultimately crashes to earth when asked to speak to its real-world audience. It's similar to what people are realizing when it comes to 3-D films these days; while it can certainly add razzle-dazzle to a film, if it doesn't help to 'speak' to a real world audience, then it's just another visual effect.

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