Review: Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

scott pilgrim vs the world one sheetGraphics novels are ripe for film treatments and many look just like storyboards, allowing moviemakers to jump start the creative process. Most graphic novel-based films tell the story but shed the visual style of the original work. A few have tried to present a hybrid view, notably Sin City and Warren Beatty’s Dick Tracy, but Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is the first to offer up a unique hybrid where the action, the visuals, the sets and even the scene transitions mirror the style of the original artwork.

Scott (Michael Cera) is a 23-year-old slacker living in Toronto. He has no job and just drifts from activity to activity, notably including playing bass in his band “Sex Bob-Omb”. He shares a tiny studio apartment – and bed, platonically – with his openly gay roomie Wallace (Kieran Culkin) and is dating a 17-year-old Chinese high school student Knives Chau (Ellen Wong). He falls in love with delivery girl Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), then finds out that to date her he has to defeat her seven evil ex’s, known collectively as the League of Evil Ex’s.
The film is fast paced and presents a warm, affectionate look at the lives of twenty-somethings who aren’t driven to succeed in big business. You meet these people all the time, they’re the bagger at the supermarket, the barista at your favorite coffee shop and the chap who parks your car at the swanky hotel. It also has the sensibilities of an MTV special with a pace that never slows down and wry sarcasm throughout. There is a surprising lack of vulgarity, however. In fact, when characters swear, it’s not only bleeped out, but a black box appears over their mouths.
I really enjoyed Scott Pilgrim vs. The World and appreciated the core story of the journey we all go through to find our own identies and to figure out what makes relationships work. I also felt a bit old watching a film clearly targeted at a much younger audience, but just as I enjoyed the graphic novels from Bryan Lee O’Malley, I also couldn’t help smiling throughout the film. It’s well worth seeing, and if you have teens trying to figure out their lives, they’ll love it.

I found Scott to be a hugely likable character, and remembered many of my own awkward early 20’s post-college experiences as the film progressed. There’s also a fascinating ambiguity about when the film is set: Ramona is a delivery girl for, yet Scott and Wallace have a rotary dial phone in their studio apartment. In one of the most brilliant scenes, Scott walks into the apartment and we then see, adventure-game-style, a small text pop-up appear for each item, showing that Wallace owns almost nothing. In a similar manner, each time a new person shows up in the film, their name and a rating (“cool”, “hot”, etc) appears on screen for a few seconds. When Scott urinates, we see a “pee bar” slowly empty.

The film is rife with ironic and self-deprecating dialog, including Scott’s friends challenging him about going out with Knives, a high schooler: “Have you even kissed her?” His response: “We almost held hands once.”  Later in the film Scott explains to Ramona that he’s between jobs. “Between what and what?” she asks.
The first of Scott’s battles with the League of Evil Ex’s is with Matthew Patel (Satya Bhabha) who literally crashes through the roof of the bar where Sex Bob-Omb are playing as part of qualifying for the Toronto International Battle of the Bands. The fight sequences are very comic-book in feel and while they throw, punch and kick each other through walls, it doesn’t seem very violent at all. When Scott defeats Patel, his body vanishes and we see that was worth 1000 experience points as a few silver coins fall to the floor. “Sweet!  Coins!” Scott says as he grabs them, just to find out that they’re not even enough for bus fare.
scott pilgrim vs the world publicity still

Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) vs. Matthew Patel (Satya Bhabha)
Everyone insists that Scott break up with Knives once he starts seeing Ramona, but he’s a slacker, so each time he tries, he’s sidetracked and talks with her about something else instead. It felt very realistic: breakups are so difficult that most people would rather just wait for the other person to guess what’s going on. “Why does everything have to be so complicated?” Scott complains.
There were so many great scenes in this film, such a great translation of the graphic novel, that I couldn’t help but be delighted by the movie. The fight sequences are whimsical, the dialog is fresh and realistic, and the acting troop, from Cera on down, do a splendid job with their roles. I was drawn into the film and not only look forward to watching it again, but hope that there’ll be a sequel too, just as there’s more to the six-book series than what made it into this movie.

3 comments on “Review: Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

  1. That is a VERY good point… I rarely find myself hoping for film sequels, but I too very much hope that this is only the first installment in a fun series surrounding Scott Pilgrim! Good stuff, Dave! Thanks!

  2. I actually enjoyed the movie although the comic and pop culture influence overwhelmed me some what – guess that I’m not that ‘hip’.

    But I did come away somewhat dissatisfied from the fighting scenes. Sorry, Cera is just..not muscle-ly enough for me to believe that he could actually do all that.

    Should some parts of the movie be more realistic? What do you think? I understand artistic choice but I like a bit of reality/stuff that makes sense thrown in my movies.

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