The “Scott Pilgrim” Movie Is Awesome: A Roundtable

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DOUGLAS: I just saw the movie for the first time, and I loved it. What surprised me is that the things about it I loved most don’t have a lot to do with the books. There’s a gigantic body of symbolic visual storytelling techniques that comics and video games use without thinking twice, and that music videos have gradually been picking up on; live-action movies, though, have mostly been really cautious about doing anything that doesn’t at least imply that it’s what their viewers would have seen if they’d been where the camera is. Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World is anything but cautious. Wright doesn’t care at all about verisimilitude here; he cares about being entertaining. And so that’s what this movie is: incredibly entertaining, straight through, moving from one scene to the next without even really suggesting a curtain-fall or a cut. It trusts us to not take it literally, to understand that everything we see is a funny and vivid way of explaining the characters’ emotional states.

(I’m not saying that this is the first movie that’s ever done this, but really, the movie that this reminded me of more than any other was Run Lola Run, and that was 1998, and it was a lot more formally cautious than this. But I also haven’t seen Speed Racer yet. I know I know.)

Any depth of character we get is basically a bonus in a movie like this (sweet! coins!). That said: it’s amazing how well a lot of O’Malley’s characters, and yeah, their depth, transfer to the screen. Wallace Wells, most obviously, and Ramona for the most part, but Aubrey Plaza steals every scene she’s in as Julie Powers. (Some of O’Malley’s set-pieces translate incredibly well, too–the hilariously miserable, fraught backstage scene after the Clash at Demonhead’s show is pretty much verbatim from the book.) And of course Scott is immature and self-aggrandizing; this is a story about how he mans up some. But it’s also a movie that’s making an aesthetic argument about what movies–even romantic comedies–can do if they let go of the conventions of “realism” and representation that they’ve mostly clung to for a century. If it goes too far with that, I don’t think that’s really a problem.

(More on Techland: Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Fashion Tips)

GRAEME: Getting in late on this, but now that I’ve seen the movie twice, I’m prepared to talk tough and threaten people who dislike it with a fight, only to wuss out if they actually agree. But I loved the movie a second time as much as I did the first, and feel even more strongly that those who feel as if it paints Scott as an infallible hero are simply not paying attention; not only is he quite clearly an insensitive jerk for at least half the movie – something that’s completely made obvious in the scene before he fights Roxy, when he tells Ramona that Kim and Knives are both okay with his dumping them and it’s very very clear that they’re not, but should also be pretty apparent from the cavalier way he treats his friends throughout the entire movie, and especially his conversations with Knives – but the final battle(s) hinge on him “earning” the powers of love and understanding, for the love of God. How can you miss that?

I’m also stunned that people think that the way the movie plays with time and jumps from scene to scene is a bad thing; it’s one of the things I loved most about the movie, the way it plays with narrative and timelines. How long are Scott and Ramona actually together, in the movie? The books play with this a little in the final book, as well, but the movie does it so much more clearly, the way that time seems elastic and meaningless, and things keep happening, as Bryan Lee O’Malley wrote at one point. It feels cinematic in a way that the books, at their best, felt like a celebration of comics. I can’t believe that people don’t like it.

(More on Techland: Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World: The Game Review)

LEV: This is one of the few nerdy entertainments that I feel confident enough about that I’m going to force my (nerdy, but not hardcore) wife to see it. Venture Brothers was another. It has THAT MUCH integrity.

EVAN: Like Steve says, Cera isn’t playing his usual beta-male sad sack here. Scott Pilgrim’s a bit of a jerk, slightly needy and oblivious to consequences of his own obliviousness.

But Wright’s not oblivious. In Bryan Lee O’Malley’s comics, the logic of video games becomes magical realism. Edgar Wright knows the comics’ fans–and his already established audience–gobbles up memes by the gallon and homes in the shift of perception created by so much media saturation. Yet he locates some heart in all that confusion, too. Scott’s a protagonist who knows how to fight better than he knows what he’s fighting for, which mirrors the anxious energy of those late teen and early twenty-something years. It’s not ADD film directing; it’s recognizing that your audience can hold multiple ideas in their head at once.

And, honestly, it’s a huge accomplishment that Wright’s able to replicate the energy of comics and video games, two media that have been notoriously difficult to translate to film. He does so many little things to duplicate the panel transitions of comics, the button-mashing of martial arts fighting games. There’s buzzing liveliness and lightning-quick gags in every frame, calling back from everything to Street Fighter to the Adam West Batman TV show. It’s a movie that’s happy to be alive.

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