So I’ve read and loved all the Scott Pilgrim comics, and I’ve seen and loved Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, which means that when I heard this excellent, hilarious comic series was being made into a film by SotD’s excellent, hilarious director Edgar Wright, I just about tore apart my copy of Empire magazine with squeaking excitement. And since I heard about it, I’ve been waiting anxiously for August 12 to just goddamn hurry up already so I could watch it. (Though it turns out the film was showing at MIFF, knowledge of which eluded me despite my degree in Googlology.)
Scott Pilgrim is twenty-three years old, and a lazy, fairly useless but also amusing member of society who plays bass in a band called Sex Bob-omb. He is also dating a high-school girl named Knives Chau, and everyone is scandalised. (As drummer Kim Pine says, “If your life had a face, I’d punch you in it.”) Everything is going wonderfully for our Mr Pilgrim until one day he is sleeping and a girl with purple hair rollerskates through his dreams. And to Scott’s surprise, she’s real, and at a party he’s also attending—she’s Ramona Flowers, amazon.ca delivery girl and the woman he is now in love with. Problem is, to win the right to date Ramona, he has to battle her seven evil exes. Which is pretty dramatic. Chris only had four I had to defeat.
Wright held remarkably true to the feel of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s comics; he kept its video-game roots, bubbly bursts into song and pop-culture asides. As is often true with comic adaptations, some panels were used as storyboards on many occasions, with scenes portrayed exactly to the pose. Everyone’s hair and clothes were the same as they were supposed to be, the sets matching, the jokes the same—kudos, seriously, to Wright, who obviously loved the source material and wanted to share it with the world. The fights are full of action, with people flying into the sky and through walls in delightfully over-the-top smackdowns.
The problem for me (because I’m whiny, and there’s always a problem) lies in the fact that I’ve read the comics. With Wright cracking the same jokes I’d read again just a few weeks before, nothing really surprised me. Whenever someone made a non-comic joke, I laughed and spilled my popcorn, but when they made one I’d heard, well, I thought, “It was funnier in the tone I heard in my head.” And it is funny. Seriously, I can’t tell you how much Scott Pilgrim hits all my favourite chortle buttons. Scott himself is hilarious, in that he is a bit of an asshole yet strangely appealing, mostly because he’s funny and a bit dense (he asks roommate Wallace Wells at one point, “What’s the website for amazon.ca?”). All the characters have cracking one-liners, or fantastically awkward comebacks like normal people do. It’s lit-up and doesn’t take itself seriously and stars my secret boyfriend, Chris Evans.
But it tries to fit six comic paperbacks’ worth of material into less than two hours, and it shows. While Wright did a good job of making it clear what was happening, and shifted some things around to get all the fights in and all the relationship dramas, the fact was you were never given enough time to particularly care about anyone. I’d read and enjoyed the comics but still didn’t care about Scott or Ramona in their Michael Cera/Mary Elizabeth Winstead personas. Cera’s the new awkward It-boy, but it doesn’t make him instantly perfect for every role that involves stumbling your lines. I just don’t think he was right as Scott Pilgrim. Winstead was serviceable as Ramona, but is undoubtedly beautiful in a role destined for someone who looks more—I don’t know—quirky? Funny People’s Aubrey Plaza, who plays the monstrously vitriolic Julie in this film, looked the part and was very close to being fine, but delivered her lines in such a dreary tone of voice that I hated her, not in the pleasurably spite-filled way I had in the comic but in the standard annoyed sense. Actually, apart from a couple of people—Alison Pill is great as Kim Pine, Mae Whitman is as confusing and nutso as evil ex Roxy Richter should be, and Chris Evans does Attractive Asshole just as enjoyably as he did in Not Another Teen Movie—most of the casting felt off, but I’m not sure if Wright’s direction was at fault for getting good actors to, well, be less good. Even the superb Jason Schwartzmann was kind of dulled down as ultimate ex, the evil Gideon Graves.
Everyone spoke so fast, trying to get all the best lines into the film, that it felt like Wright had just done what he could to cram as much into the movie as possible, while still keeping to a respectable running time. Fights dragged out longer than necessary in some cases or just plain sucked—Scott fighting the Katayanagi twins was a standout of pained effects—and ate into time better spent working on everyone’s relationships, like Scott’s and Kim’s.
I brought up with Chris whether it was kid-friendly, as it’s bloodless, fairly swear-free and the one rude scene starts in underpants and cumulates in not having sex, but as he says, it’s also a movie without repercussions. Being an ass like Scott just means you get to date gorgeous girls like Knives and Ramona, even if you cheat on them with each other. Killing someone ends with them exploding into a pile of coins. Stealing your friend’s boyfriend—I’m looking at you, Wallace Wells—ends in nothing but a sigh. Sure, it’s a hyped-up, gaming-related reality where if you’re an evil enough ex you can conjure up a team of flying hipster demon girls to help you, but still. I was let down and thus will bang my fists on the keyboard and proclaim, “If I’d been the one to direct this, well, it would have been a masterpiece of modern theatre.”
Still, Edgar Wright did a good job of filming Scott Pilgrim. If you haven’t read the comics, you’ll probably adore it. If you have, maybe you still will. To an extent, I didn’t, though I fell far short of actively disliking it. Stick enough pixels and cartoonish boxes in anything and I’ll have affection for it, but that’s because my home kind of looks like that. But I won’t be buying this on DVD—though I’ll happily reread the comics again, and you should too. Because I am just as awkwardly heroic as Scott Pilgrim is to you, right?