Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World

Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World screens at Toronto Underground Cinema on Thursday November 4th at 9:00pm, Saturday November 6th at 9:30pm, and Sunday November 7th at 7:00pm. You can also catch our very dear friend Edgar Wright and two of his very good friends (Ellen Wong and Bryan Lee O'Malley) at a special free screening on Friday November 5th at the place of business of some of our very good friends, The Bloor Cinema, at 7:00pm. Wright and friends will be partaking in a Q&A session that will be moderated by someone we would love to make friends with, Mr. Don McKellar.

"Everybody who didn't watch Scott Pilgrim is a motherfucker." - Guillermo del Toro

So before I lose my nerd cred briefly and before I regain it again, let me go back to the beginning. Let's go back to not this past summer, but the summer before that. The summer when Scott Pilgrim fever first gripped the city.

I was new to the city of Toronto. Well, new-ish. I had been living in the city for about 4 years by that point and up until the cameras were getting ready to roll on Edgar Wright's Toronto set opus, I had never even heard of Scott Pilgrim. Well, I knew of the film's existence thanks to my love of Wright's first two films, but the first I had honestly heard of the film's plot was when I saw a notice tacked up to the bulletin board in my St. Clair West apartment building that had the Universal Pictures letterhead at the top. Apparently they were filming in my neighbourhood.

It was pointed out by some of my more ravenous Scott Pilgrim loving friends, that I lived pretty much in Scott Pilgrim creator Bryan Lee O'Malley's old neighbourhood. Sure enough, when I finally picked up the books (the first 5 of which I devoured in almost a single sitting before waiting patiently for the final chapter) I recognized my whole neighbourhood laid out in front of me. There was the Goodwill store right across the street from my house (where production trucks were parked the morning I saw the memo on the bulletin board). There was the Wychwood library where I actually read scenes from a book that took place where I was reading them. The after party for the Clash at Demonhead show at Lee's Palace was shot at the Wychwood Barns, where I often liked to stroll around and have lunch. Plus, Scott and Wallace's apartment was right down the street from me. O'Malley even included the women who hang out in front of the Shopper's Drug Mart I frequented.

Needless to say, on novelty value alone I was hooked, but O'Malley's stories had something that hooked me even more. The Scott Pilgrim series of graphic novels (or manga or comics or what have you, it is all just semantics) had completely believable characters in believable situations that just happened to incorporate elements of manga, pop culture references, and video games. It was normal people doing normal things in the most extraordinary of ways. I had no idea what it would look like on screen, but with Edgar Wright at the helm, you could have been assured I would be there on opening night.

While I saw Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World on opening night in front of a packed and thoroughly appreciative audience at the Scotiabank Theatre (where the film pretty much had its entire run and due to booking restrictions we couldn't book it until it was done there), I merely liked the film. I think I was too overwhelmed the first time to really think of a proper response. Plus, by that point I was pretty exhausted from the day that came before it. Upon my second viewing of the film, I thought it was an amazing achievement and I caught so many things I missed the first time around. By the third viewing, I absolutely loved it and I knew it had ascended to the pantheon of films like Ferris Bueller's Day Off and Planes, Trains, and Automobiles as comedies that I could watch again and again and never tire of. It is, quite simply, just that good of a movie.

I assume if you are reading this blog, it is because you have already seen it and are curious as to what I might think of it or if I could offer any sort of new spin. If you haven't seen it yet, please refer to the quote from Blade 2 director Guillermo del Toro that opens this piece. You don't want to be that guy or girl. Trust me. But for now, let me preach to the converted or to the people who simply want to create a discussion as to why I might be wrong about everything I am saying. I am prepared for the usual amount of zero comments, but I am also prepared for the latter.

The biggest reason Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World works so well is because the characters created by O'Malley are so lovingly recreated on screen by Wright and co-writer Michael Bacall. Scott Pilgrim, portrayed quite wonderfully by Michael Cera, is the quintessential poster child for the 20-somethings of today. Scott is trapped in a world of his own making, but also caught with no way to get out. Such is the way of the 20-something. You have just gotten finished being told you can take on the world and once you are given the keys to it, you realize you aren't as good of a driver as you once though. Especially when it comes to matters of the heart. The relationship between Scott and Ramona (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is one that you are never sure is going to last even after the credits roll. For people my age, love is quite often just another uncertainty.

Even the 7 evil exes all have credible back stories despite their cartoonish nature. Most of the back story for these characters actually involves them getting hurt by Ramona instead of them hurting her. How funny it is then that the person with the most control over Ramona's heart is the only one to have hurt her first ?

Scott is having problems of his own. His most recent ex Envy (Brie Larson) is far more of a success as a musician than he is. The Clash at Demonhead is a great band with worldwide acclaim. Scott's band Sex Bob-omb is mediocre on a good day. To soothe his pride and not do any favours for those around him, Scott finds comfort in a chaste relationship with high schooler Knives Chau (Ellen Wong). It is apparent to everyone, but Knives that she is a rebound. Probably even deep down to Scott himself.

In this respect, Scott and Ramona could quite possibly be made for each other, but they are also not the easiest people in the world to like. It is these particular character traits that perhaps makes the characters so identifiable. Despite the upbeat and action packed climax of the film, there is always the impending sense of dread that anything could happen at any moment to keep these two apart. No amount of magic, fighting, or manipulation on the parts of the villains might even be the cause of it. It could just be life itself or a simple slip of the tongue or someone walking away at the wrong time without explanation. For all the justified hype over the fight sequences in the film, far more damage is done to characters through words (and in the case of Knives, things left unsaid) than actions.

Cena and Winstead are great, but the supporting cast threatens to walk off with the show. Of the evil exes Jason Schwartzman (as ringleader Gideon Graves) and Chris Evans (as skateboarder turned action hero Lucas Lee) know to go whole hog with their performances and throw understatement to the wind.

Wong as Knives is simply a revelation and has what appears to me to be the hardest role in the film. Wong has to play a character who is on the surface immature and naive, but also has to credibly grow somewhat by the end of the film. I don't think there is a person on Earth that could not identify with Knives' case of puppy love and having to grow up quicker than you necessarily want to because some bad news has rocked your world.

It is a shame that the Academy doesn't recognize comedy because if they did, Kieran Culkin deserves to win for Best Supporting Actor. In a movie that is already high energy and full of laughs, to have a character like Culkin's Wallace Wells is almost being far too generous. Every time Wallace appears I dare you not to at least crack a smile. Culkin has a sharp wit and you can see the wheels turning in Wallace's head; just waiting for the right moment to either build Scott up or to poke holes in his boat. Wallace's decisions are often the ones that probably the audience would make. He makes what is probably the funniest character in the film, also the most mature one.

Wright's keen eye for visuals and his ear for realistic dialogue demands multiple viewings for one to truly appreciate it. Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World is the epitome of the term "crowd pleaser" as there is quite literally something for everyone on display. Music lovers, video game fans, film buffs, manga readers, anime viewers, sportos, motorheads, geeks, sluts, bloods, wasteoids, dweebies, dickheads, pretty much everyone will have something they adore in this film. The special effects are just top notch and thanks to some amazing camera work from Matrix lenser Bill Pope, it all looks gorgeous. The soundtrack is the stuff of legend with an amazing score combined with song choices that firmly plant Wright in the same rarefied air as Quentin Tarantino and Martin Scorsese as people who know how to use certain songs at the most perfect of times. Scott Pilgrim throws a lot at you at once. If you don't stop to look around for a bit you might miss it. Hence why you need to see it again. And again. And again. And again...

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