Combustible Celluloid
 
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With: Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Aubrey Plaza, Alison Pill, Mark Webber, Johnny Simmons, Ellen Wong, Kieran Culkin, Anna Kendrick, Ben Lewis, Nelson Franklin, Kristina Pesic, Jason Schwartzman, Brandon Routh, Chris Evans, Satya Bhabha, Abigail Chu, Kjartan Hewitt, Chantelle Chung, Matt Watts, Erik Knudsen, Maurie W. Kaufmann, Tennessee Thomas, Mae Whitman, Emily Kassie, Brie Larson, Ingrid Haas, Thomas Jane, Clifton Collins Jr., Bill Hader (narrator)
Written by: Michael Bacall, Edgar Wright, based on a graphic novel by Bryan Lee O'Malley
Directed by: Edgar Wright
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for stylized violence, sexual content, language and drug references
Running Time: 112
Date: 07/27/2010
IMDB

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010)

3 Stars (out of 4)

The Opposite Ex

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Edgar Wright's third feature film, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, is awesome but it also makes you wonder if there's more to movies than awesomeness. It's perhaps an example of the video-gaming of America, where we experience a lot of glitzy, amazing stuff during a short time; and at the end, you leave feeling wrung out. It's merely a way to pass the time. In Wright's first movie, Shaun of the Dead (2004), he captured a real emotional center to the Shaun character, especially in the harrowing scene in which he must dispatch his zombified mum. And Hot Fuzz (2007) centered on a spoofy, but still genuine, homoerotic relationship between two small town cops.

In Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, the guitar-playing hero (Michael Cera) is caught between two girls. There's his cute high school girlfriend Knives Chau (Ellen Wong) and the far more exciting Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). Over the course of the film, Scott must fight Ramona's "seven deadly exes" in order to win her, but Knives keeps showing up in the equation. By the third act, it's not clear which girl Scott should end up with, perhaps because it doesn't really matter. He never feels genuinely connected to either one of them.

The reason for this could be Wright's amazing presentation. This is no mere movie that's comfortable finding a couple of camera angles to depict a scene. In this movie, the camera shifts and darts, sets expand and switch around, time jumps back and forth, moments melt into one another, and graphics appear onscreen to highlight it all. In one scene, Scott simply takes a bathroom break, and we see a "pee meter" onscreen to indicate the depleting fullness of his bladder. It's all based on a graphic novel by Bryan Lee O'Malley, but -- as I said -- it appears that Wright is going more for "video game" than "graphic novel." Reality is nowhere to be seen here, and -- so it seems -- neither are real emotions. It could be a dream, passing before our eyes, without a center.

The fights with the "exes" are lots of fun, and it's especially surprising to see the skinny, girly Cera stepping up and kung-fu-ing (or at least outwitting) his opponents. I don't want to give any of them away, since their very appearance is part of the fun, but one of them operates with extra "vegan" power. That's a funny bit, and the movie is packed with fast-paced, hilarious one-liners. (Kieran Culkin, as Scott's gay roommate, probably has the greatest portion.) There's definitely something to be said for a purely funny, fast-paced, throwaway entertainment. But one senses that, with Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Wright was out for more, especially given its nearly two-hour running time.

I happened to re-watch Ruben Fleischer's Zombieland (2009), this week; it uses many of the same graphics and techniques, but it also has a genuine joy to it. The four characters in that film effortlessly form romantic and family bonds with one another, and the story moves quickly and cleanly, finishing up at less than 90 minutes. The style of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is easily the more impressive of the two, but perhaps it's a bit too much. Perhaps it could have stripped off one layer of style, and replaced it with one layer of heart. I hope that, if the video-gaming of America continues, filmmakers remember that humans are a huge part of this mechanism, too.

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