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Teen Review: ‘Scott Pilgrim Versus the World’

God Bless Edgar Wright

Above: Michael Cera and Mary Elizabeth Winstead star in "Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World"

Edgar Wright (director of "Shaun of the Dead" and "Hot Fuzz") adapts the comic "Scott Pilgrim Versus the World" (opening August 13 throughout San Diego) to the big screen.

Back when I reviewed “Star Trek” last summer, I opened my review with a line from Ain’t It Cool News’ Harry Knowles, “God Bless J.J. Abrams”. Well, now I’d like to borrow Mr. Knowles’ line again as I begin this review-but with one minor alteration.

God Bless Edgar Wright.

From the brilliant cult British sitcom “Spaced” to the glorious genre-riffing films “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz,” Wright has proven to be a key ingredient in one of the 21st century’s greatest comedy teams. But, of course, the day must come to shed one's comfort zone and head for (potentially) greater waters. For Wright, that decision pushed him to adapt author Bryan Lee O’Malley’s visually kinetic, pop-culture stuffed “Scott Pilgrim” comic series. As a fan of the books, I can say that this is no small order. O’Malley’s writing and artistry are pitch-perfect for the pages of a comic book but to realize them on film would be aesthetically and technically arduous to say the least. Not to mention the likely probability that the result could look completely ridiculous and fail to connect at all with an audience. Oh, and the books are absolutely brilliant and have a small but passionate fan base ready to tear any adventurous filmmaker a new…well, you know what, if they try and fail.

I for one, as a fan of both Wright’s previous work and the “Scott Pilgrim” series, am exceedingly happy to report that Wright has made probably the most faithful and successful adaptation possible. His sensibilities just click so well with O’Malley’s and the film captures all the elements that were so crucial to the heart of the series. The turbulent indie rock scene, the endearing aloofness and over-anxiousness of the characters, the constant video-game references, the appropriately epic but never off-putting fight scenes, and so much more.

Michael Cera stars as Scott Pilgrim

Universal

Above: Michael Cera stars as Scott Pilgrim

The story essentially follows the life of a 22-year-old named Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) as he deals with living with his gay roommate, practicing with his aspiring rock band, getting over old flames, and getting a handle on new ones. When the film opens, we are loudly informed of the fact that Scott Pilgrim is dating a high schooler named Knives Chau (Ellen Wong), but it’s when he discovers Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) that the story really begins.

After seeing Ramona in his dreams and finding out she exists in the real world too, Scott works eagerly to ask her out. That in itself proves a bit of an ordeal for Scott, but it’s when she finally agrees that he realizes just what that will entail. Namely, he must face and defeat a total of seven of Ramona’s evil exes.

The seven evil exes.

Universal

Above: The seven evil exes.

Wright has proven his talent before as a visual stylist. This film, however, goes above and beyond to perfectly realize the world of O’Malley’s art, which exists somewhere between a John Hughes film and a John Woo one. Add onto that the dazzlingly bright colors and binging sound effects of old-school arcade games, and you’ll have some idea of what the filmmakers have managed to create here. Although, you really have to see it to completely understand. However, the film doesn’t rely on Wright’s visual talent alone.

The group of actors assembled here are nearly pitch-perfect, with standouts including evil exes Satya Bhabha and Chris Evans along with the evil ex-mastermind played with delightful malicious intent by Jason Schwartzman. However, the best performance may belong to Kieran Culkin as Scott’s roommate. His dry wit works brilliantly as a counterpoint in the world this film finds itself in. Of course, there is the issue of Michael Cera. The actor has transitioned, in some people's minds, from endearing to annoying quite abruptly. I, however, have always been a bit of a Michael Cera apologist and absolutely believe he does this role justice. There are moments here where the actor truly moves to stretch the boundaries of his cultural persona, but most importantly, he supplies the emotional heart of the film. And that, my friends, is of great necessity in order to ground and make a film like this work.

Director Edgar Wright captures the comic book feel of his source material.

Universal

Above: Director Edgar Wright captures the comic book feel of his source material.

I’ve seen the film twice so far and while each time I’ve found myself overwhelmed by its energy and whimsy, it isn’t quite perfect. My biggest complaint would be that I wish the relationship between Scott and Ramona had been given just a bit more time to develop and blossom more naturally. After all, we’re supposed to believe he’d be willing to risk his life on various occasions just to earn the right to date this girl!

Gripes aside, I still find myself completely enamored with most everything about "Scott Pilgrim Versus the World" (rated PG-13 for stylized violence, sexual content, language and drug references) and am eagerly anticipating a third viewing sometime this weekend.  While I wouldn’t say it reaches the heights of Wright’s previous work, “Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World” is still an absolute blast to watch and quite unlike anything you’ve seen before. You should seriously do yourself a favor and check it out. 

-Michael Shymon just finished his freshman year at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts where he's studying Film & Television Production. He's hoping one day all this movie watching will finally pay off. While he's home for summer break in San Diego, he'll be resuming his duties as a KPBS Teen Critic.

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