Friday, July 22, 2011

2011 Hugo Nominee: Dramatic Presentation, Long Form - SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD, directed by Edgar Wright (Universal)

Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) is a Canadian slacker who plays in a garage band named Sex Bob-omb (it's a Super Mario Bros. joke). He’s unemployed, and he has to share a mattress with his gay roommate in a one-room apartment across the street from his parents’ house. He’s recovering from a devastating break-up with a girl named Envy who has gone on to date a super-powered Vegan. He’s dating a high school girl for a simpler relationship, but then he falls in love with a delivery girl with brightly-colored hair named Ramona (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) who literally stepped out of his dreams (she uses a sub-space passage that goes through his dreams as a short-cut for her deliveries. It’s an American thing.) If Scott wants to date Ramona, however, he must defeat her seven evil exes. It’s a big ol’ metaphor for modern life in your twenties – everyone has to figure out who they are, what they want to do, and they have to learn how to have mature relationships and deal with the baggage that people have started to accumulate through middle school, high school, and thereafter.

I’m not really sure how to rate this film. I love the source material, a series of six graphic novels by Bryan Lee O’Malley that begin as rather typical slacker-romantic-comedy material (which is not uncommon on the comics scene), but then reveal a world that works according to the rules of various 8-bit Nintendo games. Disagreements lead to explosive physical combat, and when enemies are defeated, they leave behind coins. The whole series plays a lot like the manga of Rumiko Takahashi which tend to mix romantic comedy with heavy genre content (UFOs in Urusei Yatsura and martial arts in Ranma ½), but with greater emotional depth. They’re immensely charming, hilarious, and the relationship story does manage to resonate with me (and lots of other people) despite the over-the-top characters.

I also love director Edgar Wright’s approach to the material. It’s incredibly faithful to the comic series, and Wright fills the film with comic visuals. Little sound effects pop up at times, and there are manga action lines all over the place. The action-movie parody Hot Fuzz suggested that Wright could be one of the greatest action movie directors of all time if he’d played it straight, and this film is every bit as expertly made, energy-filled, and visually lush as that one.

So, it’s a great-looking, incredibly faithful adaptation of material I love. And yet…I’m not sure this works as a movie. I think the central problem is pacing. The movie packs six graphic novels worth of material into two hours of film. That means that a lot of the quieter moments that build the characters get lost. Scott and Ramona’s relationship unfolds over a year in the books; here, everything takes place in about three days, and it’s hard to buy the emotional weight that’s supposed to be behind the fights. I’m also not sure that the casting entirely works. I loved Arrested Development, so I’ll always have a soft spot for George Michael…I mean, Michael Cera, but I don’t really buy him as Scott. The supporting cast is pretty solid though, with superheroes Chris Evans and Brandon Routh especially stealing scenes as ex-boyfriends.

I’m afraid that this is one of the weaker nominees this year. We get lots of funny lines and moments from the comic, great visuals from Edgar Wright, but I’d really recommend reading the graphic novels first (and I would've preferred a Graphic Story nom).

Grade: B


  1. I only have one thing to say. Knives rocks in the movie. Apparently she wasn't as big of a character in the graphic, which is a shame. I may be mistaken as I haven't read them.

  2. Loved this movie, but I didn't read the graphic novels. Knives does rock, she was the best character by far.

  3. I'd say Knives actually has a bigger role in the books. Then again, everyone has a bigger role in the books. My problem with the movie is probably that I love the books too much, which isn't really fair.