Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Exes of Evil.


Watching Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is like watching Juno on speed and ecstasy. And by that, I mean the character Juno is on speed, and you're watching the movie on ecstasy. The hipster slang comes out flying with a vengeance, although in the heightened reality of this movie, it makes a lot more sense. In some ways like a cartoon, in some ways like a video game, Scott Pilgrim evokes a level of geekiness heretofore unseen in cinema. Game on.

My own experience with video games is basically limited to those with the word "Mario" in the title. Nintendo 64 was as advanced as I got before I outgrew such things. Still, I can fully appreciate the references, since they are mostly throwbacks to the arcade-style games of the 80's and 90's. When Scott defeats an enemy, coins spill, giving him points. At one point, he literally "gets a life."

The story concerns Scott Pilgrim, a member of the rock band Sex Bob-Omb, who is dating a Chinese schoolgirl named Knives Chau. (Despite the sharp imagery, Knives is by far the sweetest character in this movie.) Then he spots Ramona Flowers, who in true hipster movie fashion, dyes her hair alternating bright colors, signaling that she is rebellious and deep and the love of the protagonist's life. Obviously. The romance is essentially an early 20's clone of Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, complete with a surreal snowy location where they hit it off. The connection between them isn't nearly as affecting as it was between Joel and Clementine, but that might be because we still have Seven Evil Exes to worry about.

Yes, Scott is duly informed that he must fight against seven of Ramona's former flames who have ganged up to take down her new beau, including her experiment with bisexuality and a pair of Japanese twins. (That also leaves a movie star, a music producer, a Vegan rock star, and a mascara-loving weirdo who does a Bollywood number accompanied by a fanged harlot backup dancers.) Luckily, nerdy little Scott is quite the Jackie Chan when the situation calls for it, though to defeat a couple of them he also resorts to mind games and outsmarting them. This is possible because almost of Ramona's exes are dumb; they all seem gay, with the possible exception of the lesbian. But it's not like Michael Cera is Butch Cassidy, exactly, either, so I guess the girl has a type: effeminate and evil.

That any of this works at all is a testament to director Edgar Wright, who skillfully keeps the tone light and playful while managing to tell a mostly coherent story. (It never makes an attempt to follow real world logic or "make sense," and is probably all the better for it.) What really grounds the film is the inherent metaphor - a person brings baggage from previous relationships to any new ones, and that is something they must overcome in order to make it work. Scott's exes also figure into the mix: Knives Chau attempts to take out Ramona, and Scott's sexy bitch of an ex-girlfriend (now a rock star) is dating one of Ramona's exes. Even in this completely absurd Donkey Kong-level of reality, the film gets on thing right: the he-likes-her-but-she's-with-him-who-used-to-date-me messiness and complexity of modern love.

I had a lot of fun at Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. The movie is consistently funny, with a slew of talented performers like Anna Kendrick, Chris Evans, and Brandon Routh popping up briefly (and hilariously). Michael Cera more than holds his own with excellent comic timing and delivery, but the real scene-stealer is Ellen Wong as Knives Chau, who is totally over the top as Sex Bob-Omb's rather clueless lovelorn groupie (while still reminding us of actual girls we knew in high school). She could have her own movie.

There are, of course, a few drawbacks: toward the end, the fight scenes get a bit overlong and repetitive; the one with the Japanese twins especially feels rushed and inconsequential. And there are moment when I wished the manic pace of the movie might slow down and give way to a bit more gravity and character development, if only to make the stakes of those fight scenes greater. I also found the depiction of gay characters in the film disappointing. Scott has an unusual relationship with his gay roommate, Wallace: they share a bed and Wallace reports everything Scott does to his sister Stacey (Anna Kendrick) in record time. This is quite funny, but then there are several unnecessary developments with Wallace sleeping with Stacey's boyfriend, then sleeping with Stacey's boyfriend and his own boyfriend, then sleeping with someone totally random. These are all played for cheap laughs, and I can't say they don't stem from a certain truth, but they felt out of place in this movie.

Sure, the movie pokes fun at a lot of stereotypes, from hipsters to vegans to Chinese schoolgirls - you can't take much of it seriously. But I wish the film had at least focused its gay caricature around one trait: here the gay character is a gossip and unfaithful and a shameless flirt and disloyal to his friend Scott and promiscuous. It's a bit much, especially in a film that gives the other (non-evil) characters heart to go along with the kooky storylines.

But that aside, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is decidedly one of the most clever films you'll see this year. It's practically dripping with fun. And perhaps I even enjoyed it more than most, for if ever there were a movie tailor-made for me, it is a movie about a League of Evil Exes teaming up and then getting the shit beaten out of them. Like Ramona, I have also found that my past relationships tend to come back to haunt me, sometimes by joining forces.

This may just be a fact of life, and I suppose there's something to be said for time healing all wounds. I've done the mature thing and let bygones be bygones, plenty of times. I've moved on like an adult. But wouldn't it be better if we could just kick their asses?

I, for one, think we'd all be a little happier if, after a bad breakup, we just have at it, Mortal Kombat-style. A fight to the finish. Five minutes and you're done. That's one way to get over your ex - stab him through the heart with a flaming sword, and he explodes into money. Then you not only vanquish your evil ex-boyfriend and earn the freedom to begin a new relationship, you also get quarters for laundry. Bonus!

Wouldn't that be so much faster and more efficient than yoga, drinking alone, sleeping around, crying yourself to sleep, making voodoo dolls, and countless hours of therapy?

Your princess is in another castle,



  1. I might actually go see this now. I had read this review and considered not going:

  2. I actually agree with just about everything they say in that review, I just don't think any of it ruins the enjoyment of seeing the movie.

    It could have been a better film, story-wise, absolutely. But as is, it's clever and fun. I think it's worth it for you to check it out, I believe you'd enjoy yourself.