Saturday, November 20, 2010

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

With "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World," director Edgar Wright deftly mixes and matches the plot points of Bryan Lee O'Malley's moderately indelible comic book series to come up with a workable but ultimately far too hurried adaptation.

But there is much to be said for it. Wright shows his capabilities as an accomplished director here; this is his best film to date (I say this only having seen his in my opinion mediocre "Shaun of the Dead"). How he plays the world of the spaced-out Scott is superb. In the book, Scott is notably at the mercy of time, but this isn't quite as intense for the reader. In the film, Wright excellently accentuates this to the point that the scenes slide and slam together. And, in his script with Michael Bacall, he does a great job of filtering the book's sardonic and eccentric humor through a cinematic lens.

The actors fit the characters' shoes admittedly to varying degrees of success, but at least they're all on the high end of the spectrum. Michael Cera, who I had doubts about in the role of the title character, does well, as do Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Ramona, Kieran Culkin as Wallace Wells, and Jason Schwartzman, delightfully glib if slightly over-the-top, as Gideon.

For the uninitiated (who, to me, will be much better off when viewing this film as they won't have the books to think about in the back of their minds), Scott Pilgrim (Cera) is a Toronto-based layabout without a job who's floating in the world just outside of college, living in a crappy apartment consisting of stuff mostly owned by his roommate Wallace (Culkin). He's got a band (Sex Bob-Omb) and a girlfriend in high school (Knives Chau, played simultaneously as worthy and as pathetic by Ellen Wong) who he's not serious about but who's serious about him. He sees a hot girl in his dreams (much better explained in the book; I'll leave it at that), who comes into his life soon afterwards as an American moving to Canada for some quiet time. This is Ramona (Winstead), and according to those on the party scene, she's too much for him. But this is not the case, as they come to a relationship.

Not as simple as that, however. Scott is faced with the challenge of having to dispatch a whopping total of 7 "evil exes," who make up a sort of "league." They range from flames she had very minor encounters with in grade school to the one that she's still not over. I agree with the speculation of at least some that these battle scenes were dense and probably should have been wider spaced. Wright would have had to make a film 2 and half to 3 hours to do that, but still: except for the first two, which are meticulously re-created, the rest are sped through, cutting off huge developments (one wouldn't understand the true power of Envy Adams' devastation from this film) as the film goes headlong towards the ending. This is on some level good: I disliked the drawing-out of some of the conflicts in the book and it would be a pain to see them played out again on-screen. But overall, it's a bit slipshod.

The second half plays as if Wright took apart the end of the series, threw it in a box, and blew it up with dynamite. Strands of the plot are all over the place, as the film is very simplified. As I said before, this is well-done by Wright but, of course, disconcerting for the observant reader. The construction of the ending is completely foreign to that of the book, simultaneously refreshing and bizarre, using Knives Chau to a very profuse extent. She feels like an intruder in the messily observed climax and ending. It works at times, but it is not exemplary craftsmanship on Wright's part. Also: his decision to dance around the book's emotional pieces nicely lightens the mood but backfires in that it shuts out very important content.

As a gamer and a jester, Wright is able to do an admirable job with much of this film. He makes "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World" absorbing and at times even surprising for me as a previous reader. But he didn't entirely make it work. Although I may be slightly off, I think those taking in this story for the first time will appreciate this film version better. However, if you were going to pick between the comics and the feature, I'd say go with the reading. B-


Anonymous said...

You didn't like Shaun of the Dead? :-O

As for this movie, I'll have to check it out at some point.

Anonymous said...

I've never read the comics, so I approached the movie without knowing much more than what the trailer told me. I loved it. The plot did feel a little like a jumbled mess at times, but if anything, it added to its charm. Most of all, it's the visuals that wowed me. Wright did an amazing job working in the gaming and comics influences, and the result is a film that has a very unique visual identity.
I've been meaning to write about it for a while now, but I want to see it again before I do, and it's not coming out until December 1 here (living in France does have its downsides for moviegoers).

Nick Duval said...

Litdreamer- I found it pretty disappointing. British humor has the ability to either hit the mark exactly or be way off. But I should give it another look.

dontdoacidguys- You prove my theory about the first-timers getting more from the movie than those that read the books. Wright, as a gamer, was the perfect person to direct this. He takes over the wheel from O'Malley with ease, especially in how he plants references to take the place of other ones.