I saw Scott Pilgrim last night.
Full disclosure, this took place in the context of some major-league cosseting. I mean, pampering on the level that makes you feel like you’re some kind of evil ancient god-emperor.
First of all the Scott Pilgrim screening was a surprise screening, so just to begin with you get this climate of hysterical gratitude in the room. (OK, I knew about the screening ahead of time, but still.) It’s free, of course, as such screenings are, but it’s not just free. You walk in and are confronted with these like bales of free popcorn (=my dinner last night), accompanied by vast quantities of free water and soda.
Then the director — Edgar Wright, the guy who made Shaun of the Dead — gets upon stage and personally introduces the movie for you. He also reassures you that, should these tributes be insufficient, if you merely remain where you are after the movie, Metric will play a live show for you right there in the theater.
These factors are what in a courtroom would be called prejudicial. So I want to get them on the record before I disclose that I thought the movie was beautiful.
It’s not quite like the books. Michael Cera plays Pilgrim as a bit more of a floppy emo-boy than he is in the comics.
But Cera is always extremely likeable, whatever he’s doing. And the secondary performances are almost eerily perfect, especially the world-weary Kieran Culkin as the gay roommate Wallace, Ellen Wong (unwinkingly over the top) as Knives Chau, Anna Kendrick as Scott’s sister (I suppose we have to be grateful to Twilight for her now?), and, amazingly, Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Ramona, who’s supposed to be so mysteriously alluring that you can’t imagine any actress living up to her, except Winstead kind of does.
(And a special shout-out to Satya Bhabha, the unknown who plays Matthew Patel, Ramona’s first evil ex. There’s a reason he’s all over the trailer. His Bollywood dance-fight sequence is the highlight of the movie.)
But the really amazing performance is the director’s. Practically every frame has a visual or auditory gag in it, goofing on eight-bit games and rock cliches and action movies. (The characters are always trying to do snappy banters in fight scenes, then getting confused and having to explain the joke.) Nothing ever comes at you straight. Some of this stuff is lifted from the book, but some are Wright’s own riffs — at one point, when Scott and Wallace are hanging out in their apartment, Wright starts dropping in Seinfeld music and a laugh track behind the actors, and the scene turns into a dead-on parody of a sitcom. For maybe 20 seconds.
How Wright keeps this stuff coming for an entire movie is beyond me. But he does, and it’s, I’m sorry, fucking brilliant. His touch with effects is virtuosic. The actual substance of Pilgrim’s story is pretty slight, always has been — Canadian slacker has crush, grows pair, the end. It’s always been O’Malley’s genius (I think it’s fair to use that word) as a storyteller/commentator that makes it work. And Wright turns out to be a worthy collaborator, which is saying a lot.
All this comes through despite the typical Comic-Con over-marketing machine — the interactive brand experiences, the building-sized advertisements — which can make even pure gold look like cheap junk. (This isn’t hyperbole, they’ve spread Michael Cera’s stringy body all over the entire facade of the Bayfront Hilton.)
Afterwards I skipped the Metric set to go to a fancy industry event where a large corporation spent a vast amount of money to celebrate a great and beloved movie by creating what is easily the worst party I have ever been to, and maybe that anybody has ever been to.
It was almost reassuring. I stood there in the strobe lights and let the house music pummel my head and drank my sub-well gin and tonic and watched confused hipsters straggle past me wondering what brand they were supposed to be swearing fealty to, and I thought, yup, it’s Comic-Con.
For an hour or two there I was worried it was losing its edge.