Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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At The Picture Show
August 2010

Game boy

Edgar Wright takes postmodern filmmaking up a notch with endlessly inventive 'Scott Pilgrim'

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
Universal Pictures
Director: Edgar Wright
Screenplay: Edgar Wright and Michael Bacall, based on the graphic novel series by Bryan Lee O'Malley
Starring: Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Mark Webber, Anna Kendrick, Ellen Wong, Alison Pill, Chris Evans, Satya Bhabha, Mae Whitman, Brandon Routh, Aubrey Plaza, Kieran Culkin and Jason Schwartzman
Rated PG-13 / 1 hour, 52 minutes
Opens August 13, 2010
(out of four)

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is the work of a filmmaker totally unencumbered by the limitations of cinema or the expectations of genre. It's like the one kid who heard the old "you can be anything you want to be" platitude in grade school and actually took it to heart. Writer-director Edgar Wright has decided that his movie can be anything it wants to be, and so it is. He decided that it can behave like a video game, a Japanese cartoon, a comic book, a movie parody, a sitcom, a dream, a musical, a romance . . . sometimes all at once.

We film critics like to admire films that "break the rules," which as often as not just means a slight tweaking of the rules, or an inversion of them. With Scott Pilgrim, though, it's more like the rules are irrelevant. The logistics can (and inevitably do) shift from scene to scene and moment to moment. It is one of the few movies that I can say is truly not grounded - and I mean that in a good way.

The film is so alive, bristling with such manic energy, that we feel as if it could burst out of the frame at any moment. In fact, like just about everything else, the film's framing itself is constantly in flux. Shifts in the aspect ratio, frames within frames . . . the visual experience is more fluid and versatile than anything you're likely to see.

Not that Wright's experiments are completely unfamiliar. Like most rule-bending or "game-changing" films, Scott Pilgrim has been built on other movies' innovations as well as its own. I've seen variations of its stylistic choices in everything from Sin City to Stephen Chow to Chappelle's Show. But here, Wright takes it to another, more polished, more anarchic level. He bends his film's own internal logic and stylistic proclivities so quickly and so often, some will say it's simply an ADD-generation sideshow. I prefer to think of it as visual stream of consciousness. One idea morphs into the next; scenes and styles fold into one another.

This is probably going to sound excessive to some, but there's something positively Godardian about Wright's brash and gleeful subversion of normal cinematic etiquette - not to mention his playfulness. He gracefully moves from a video-game aesthetic in which the title character's "pee bar" (in old Nintendo graphic form) goes from full to empty as he takes a leak, to a later sequence that cleverly utilizes the Seinfeld theme and laugh tracks, to one of many Mortal Kombat-like fight scenes, which may or may not end with a magnificently absurd musical number.

Wright's kinetic filmmaking style has been a defining feature for years, most famously in his two great previous films, Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, as well as his excellent TV series, Spaced. There has always been an ironic detachment to his work and his characters - which has led some to accuse him of cynically attempting to be "hip." In reality, his style has been an often pitch-perfect reflection of the sensibilities of the slacker generation(s). And so what better way to encapsulate that than with a film about a 20-something slacker?

Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) is certainly that. He says he's "between jobs" but can't elaborate, he's in a band that thinks it's going places even though he casually asserts that they're terrible, he still hasn't gotten over the girl who broke his heart more than a year ago and he lives in a hole-in-the-wall studio apartment (with a roommate) that is directly across the street from his family's house. He's dating a 17-year-old high schooler named Knives Chau (Ellen Wong), but is rather unemotional about the arrangement. (Sound familiar?)

Not so when it comes to the "girl of his dreams," a transplanted New Yorker named Ramona Flowers (Death Proof's Mary Elizabeth Winstead) that immediately captures his heart, only for him to discover that great danger lies ahead if he wants to pursue this particular relationship. That great danger comes in the form of a series of fights with Ramona's ex-flames - courtesy of the official League of Evil Exes, organized and arranged by the most heinous of all the exes, Gideon (Jason Schwartzman). Scott not only has to fight them, he has to defeat them all if he wants to win Ramona's hand.

Aside from being endlessly inventive, Scott Pilgrim accomplishes something very specific, in that it synthesizes a generation's attitude and perspective - its view of relationships, sexual dynamics, work, play and the ways we (I have to count myself as part of this generation) relate to one another. The casual irony and emotional distance that is mistaken for casual hipness is, in fact, brutal honesty. Scott's struggle to not only put his feelings toward Ramona into words, but to understand her (and himself) reaches a level of mild - if detached - poignance. And surely the hurdles and physical challenges he has to overcome in order to get what he wants - including fighting a vegan who, by virtue of being a vegan, has special telekinetic powers - are relatable to virtually everyone. Not literally, of course, but you know what I mean.

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Although if one could defeat one's mortal enemy with a series of gravity-defying video-game combo moves and a well-timed upper cut that could burst him into a pile of quarters, you gotta admit, that'd be pretty cool. And given the absolute joy Wright and Cera take in every moment of Scott Pilgrim, you know that they think so, too.

Read more by Chris Bellamy

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