Silver Screen: Scott Pilgrim versus the World ***1/2
The latest from director Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead and the disappointing Hot Fuzz), based on the graphic novel series by Bryan Lee O'Malley, is the candy-colored, distractible, frenetic, pop-culture-steeped bleeping-and-blooping embodiment of hipster youth culture. It's all there: indie rock, manga and anime, American comics, sitcoms, videogames, and a megadose of irony. That may sound as irritating as your emo nephew who won't stop texting at Thanksgiving dinner, but the sparkly, energetic film is surprisingly fun, even for aspiring codgers.
Michael Cera once again plays Michael Cera, who this time goes by the nickname Scott Pilgrim. He's an underconfident Canadian bass player who lives and shares a bed with his gay lothario roommate, Wallace (Kieran Culkin).
In a slight twist on the Michael Cera formula, Scott is something of an inadvertent lothario himself. Despite his timidness, which sometimes tips into cowardice, he's managed to break the heart of his band's drummer, Kim (the plucky Alison Pill), and generate something like obsession in a seventeen-year-old schoolgirl named Knives (Ellen Wong).
Scott's knocked for a loop when he meets Ramona Flowers (the almost impossibly lovely Mary Elizabeth Winstead), an Ü ber-aloof hipster dream chick who wears disaffection like fishnet hose. He makes a series of awkward gestures to get her attention and, somehow, it works, but to win her affection, he must defeat her seven evil exes.
As in, literally defeat. The world of Scott Pilgrim is a fairly mundane slice of post-teen life-- crummy jobs, mediocre bands, house parties, and romantic flailings-- but it's overlaid with pop fantasy. When Ramona's exes show up, they don't walk through doors, they burst through brick walls or fly in from overhead in crackles of energy and light. Scott's clashes with them are Pokemon-meets-Mortal Kombat showdowns complete with metaphysical moves, hit-combo counters, and high scores to be won. (When one enemy is on the ropes, he flashes red, that universal videogame symbol of distress.)
It's not just the fights-- everything in Scott Pilgrim is hyper-stylized, from the cartoon-heart icons floating off Ramona's lips to comic-book sound-effects bubbles that scroll across the screen to punctuate gestures. This could easily turn the movie into a flashy, headache-inducing attention deficit disorder jumble of lights and sounds, à la the Wachowskis' Speed Racer, but it doesn't. Wright, making a quantum leap from his previous efforts in terms of visuals, creates one of the most eye-popping aesthetics of the year. Yeah, it's a mashup, but it's distinctive, and it always adds rather than detracts from the story, which is so archetypal that it could use a little razzle-dazzle.
Scott Pilgrim versus the World is perhaps the most self-consciously hip movie since the Cera-starring rom-com Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist. Like that similarly enjoyable but less-inspired film, the hipster factor is either the movie's greatest asset or its major detractor. There's a lot of indie rock, a lot of posturing, and enough hot young actors to fill a Celebrity Rehab 2018 house. The particular standouts are Anna Kendrick as Scott's bossy little sister, Chris Evans as a hunky actor/skateboarder who used to date Ramona, and Jason Schwartzman as the smarmy king of all evil exes. In what could here only be referred to as a pop-culture bonus round, there's even a reteaming of Cera with his Arrested Development ex-girlfriend, the wonderful Mae Whitman.
Scott Pilgrim doesn't seem to have found its audience yet; despite an overkill of hype, it debuted poorly and is already on its way to slinking out of the theaters. Catch it now, while you can, so when you're at the inevitable midnight screening of it five years from now you can say you saw it during its initial run. This thing's gonna have a cult audience before you can say "Twitter."