08 January 2011

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

This is my second time seeing this. I really liked it the first time I saw it. Even though it seems a little poppy or silly, it was loosely around the mid-point of a roughly imagined unwritten "Top 10 of 2010" list already. I loved it on second viewing. It's just fantastic. And I like the end a lot more now, too; now that I wasn't hoping for the comic book end to show up I don't feel disappointed really at all. (Still, all that stuff in the books about going inside Ramona and the many different sides of her all fighting the one side of her that still loved Gideon, and Scott actually having to come to terms with his black-outs and constant prickish behavior toward women... that stuff was still the most powerful part of the whole series.)

It's so goddamn ADHD, video-game/music-video hyper, but it doesn't feel like it panders to the short-attention span so much as embraces and celebrates it. In fact so much happens with so much deliberation and forethought -- the effects alone are so smooth and complicated despite the rapid-fire delivery of them -- that it is clearly not a work by or even for those who don't want to pay attention. It's a labor of love that took a lot of concentration and patience to put together. I don't know for sure, but maybe it's all that loving detail that keeps the movie from feeling like a seizure-inducing headache. Or maybe it's just that it's a very simple, very good story. And the endlessly entertaining, understated stunt-casting doesn't hurt. Honestly, so many great roles for so many great young actors, really nailing the tongue-in-cheek, deliberately one-note characters from the book. Almost every character, I wish I could spend more time with. That's rare. And considering how shallow and poorly-developed many of them are, that's crazy.

My friend Chris and I got into a conversation where he said he couldn't believe Scott would fall head over heels for Ramona. I have to confess, I found that kind of surprising. Because honestly, 22-year-old me would have gone apeshit for a girl like Ramona Flowers. 32-year-old me, well, I still think she's pretty cute but she's awfully shallow, full of herself, and doing that unforgivable young-girl thing where instead of dealing with her problems she's just telling you they're there so you'd better deal with them for her... but when I was Scott's age, I'd be lying if I said I wouldn't fight seven deadly exes for a chance to rub up against those damaged goods. That's part of the appeal of the film, I think, is how right it gets the way guys can just go stupid for a girl who is just the right kind of trouble. It's almost like the answer to the whole Manic Pixie Dream Girl phenomenon, because rather than having our mopey sadsack hero find a muse who's just a little too perfect and a little too charming, here our pixie dream girl is aloof, difficult, and she comes with baggage. Here we not only acknowledge that Ramona's a mess, but we admit that there it wouldn't be any fun if she weren't a mess -- and Scott is exactly in that place where you see it, but you don't really see it. This film captures that in a way that really hits a secret inner me, a leftover me from a long time ago, and for that I find it actually a kind of emotional experience. For that it deserves to be somewhere in the same orbit as films like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Punch-Drunk Love, films that really capture how it can feel to be in love. At least, how it feels when I'm in love.

Plus, on top of all of that, the action sequences really work, and there is something infectiously awesome about watching Michael Cera in convincing, surreally exaggerated fight scenes. He's an actor I've always found charming -- but, alas, just charming, and frankly one-note: one of those actors who plays himself over and over and you can only take so much of that in a lead role. But here the Michael Cera persona is a strength. Some people don't see him as the Scott Pilgrim of the books, but I really do. His mumbling, introspective delivery and exaggerated facial expressions keep the character appealing but cartoony, but those same mannerisms also help him seem like an un-self-aware asshole, which the character needs. I really like him in this role. The fact that he's so preposterously miscast as a fighter and an ass-kicking bass player really work in the favor of the role. For the world of Scott Pilgrim, I wouldn't believe it if Scott Pilgrim were believable in those fights. It would feel less video-gamey, and less fun.

Anyway, I'm gushing. But I just watched it straight through with no complaints or criticisms. I want to spend more time in that crazy silly world, and I was moved by the plight of the main character in ways I felt were both genuine and ironic (the Venn diagram of those two seemingly incompatible terms is most definitely the Edgar Wright model). What more could I ask for?

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