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Archive for Friday, August 13, 2010

‘Pilgrim’ takes witty look at today’s youth culture

Michael Cera stars in "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World."

Michael Cera stars in "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World."

August 13, 2010

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Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) must defeat the seven evil ex-boyfriends of his new girlfriend (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) in order to win her heart in "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World."

Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) must defeat the seven evil ex-boyfriends of his new girlfriend (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) in order to win her heart in "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World."

Review ***

Rating: PG-13, for vulgar language, mock video-game language, adult themes

Length: 1 hour, 52 minutes

Theater: Southwind Twelve, 3433 Iowa

Movie
Scott Pilgrim vs the World ***

With his adaptation of the graphic novel series, filmmaker Edgar Wright does more than tell the story of a love-stricken guy (Michael Cera) who has to fight the evil exes of the girl he's fallen hard for. He makes an inventive statement about how references to all kinds of media are woven into the fabric of teens' daily lives.

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Overloaded by lightning-quick information via social media, text messages and an unlimited supply of TV and computer screens that never seem to shut off, the teens and young adults of today are a different breed. Now they finally have a movie that serves as a giant metaphor for their experiences.

“Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” places its young characters in a world of magical realism — it is full of widescreen cut-scenes, player power-ups and running scores that appear onscreen. The thing is this: Nobody acts like anything weird is going on. In other words, the reality of Scott (Michael Cera) and his indie-rock loving friends is that their lives have become video games.

With his adaptation of the graphic novel series by Bryan Lee O’Malley, director/co-writer Edgar Wright does more than tell the story of a love-stricken kid who has to man up and fight the evil exes of the girl he’s fallen hard for (Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays Ramona). He makes a statement about how references to all kinds of media are woven into the fabric of teens’ daily lives in ways that are almost indistinguishable.

This means that when animated word balloons pop out of characters’ mouths or someone gets an “extra man,” the director is not necessarily criticizing the way modern media is consumed — or even that it oftentimes has come to define some people. He’s more clever than that. Instead, Wright is using comics and video games to tell his tale in a language that is easily understood by its audience.

Wright has always been a whiz at loving homages, having directed the zombie spoof “Shaun of the Dead” and the transcendent buddy-cop action tribute “Hot Fuzz.” So it’s no surprise that the first two-thirds of “Scott Pilgrim” are bristling with kinetic energy. (If this movie doesn’t get a nod for film editing at the Oscars next year, it will be a crying shame.)

Quick-witted comebacks and non sequitur slapstick are also blended perfectly with the emotional states of the seen-it-all-and-don’t-care crowd. It all seems like a logical extension of who they are.

Even when the meticulously designed CGI fight scenes begin, it still feels natural; like it’s what his friends expect of Scott once they learn of his affection for Ramona. The defeat of each of Ramona’s exes signals a level completed.

Certainly co-stars such as Anna Kendrick, Ellen Wong and Kieran Culkin don’t get much screen time to flesh out their characters, but the actors do a lot with a little. The same goes for Winstead, who projects a mysterious air of confidence up until the perplexing final act.

Cera, for his part, plays Scott with the right amount of cocksure cluelessness for the first half of the film. As Scott falls deeper in love with Ramona, however, Cera reverts to many of the shoulder-shrugging mannerisms of his other films.

O’Malley’s comic series had not been finished by the time production started on this film, so Wright and co-writer Michael Bacall had to pen an ending to the movie before the last graphic novel was created. Unfortunately, it shows.

The only spot where “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” truly falls down is at the end. After 90 minutes of visual inventiveness, the last 30 are a bit of a letdown in that department, but additionally, Wright doesn’t seem to know what he’s trying to say. One character turns on a dime, another develops a sudden ability to forgive and forget, and the finale just fails to live up to the imagination of the rest of the movie.

Some people will undoubtedly say that Wright’s film is all style and no substance. They are missing the point. In “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World,” the style is the substance. Everything is a pop-culture reference because everything in these kids’ life is a pop-culture reference. It’s just that we as an audience are now let into the world they created for themselves.

You can reminisce all you want and complain about how there aren’t any John Hughes-type movies for this generation, but as surreal and strange as “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” is, it will likely be remembered as the first shot across the bow for anyone trying to realistically portray young people today.

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