SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD (2010) (***1/2)
Best videogame adaptation ever! Wait, but it's adapted from Bryan Lee O'Malley's graphic novel. This send-up of videogame culture is frantic and funny. It uses videogames as a style with wit and ingenuity. Director Edgar Wright, the maker of SHAUN OF THE DEAD and HOT FUZZ, has taken a simple, quirky love story and blown it out into a grand cinematic spectacle that had me smiling form the moment the 8-bit version of the Universal logo came up on the screen.
It is announced right from the start that Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera, JUNO) is dating a high school girl. Now you might be thinking that a 22 year old dating a 17 year old is one year short of being right, but Scott seems too innocent to expect anything more than a kiss. Scott just likes the adulation of Knives Chau (Ellen Wong) even though his sister Stacey (Anna Kendrick, UP IN THE AIR) thinks there's twisted fantasy fulfillment going on in him dating a Chinese Catholic school girl with the uniform and all. But he seems satisfied with her simply being amazed at his knowledge of the origin of Pac-Man's name. She of course thinks he's awesome because he plays bass in a band called Sex Bob Omb.
But then one day at the library, Scott sees Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, GRINDHOUSE), a hipster girl on rollerblades with purple hair. Schoolgirl fantasy, be gone! So Scott sets out to woe this guarded vixen with his awkward charm. But what he doesn't know at the start is that to win over Ramona he will have to defeat her seven evil exes.
As Scott pursues his relationship with Ramona, while trying to avoid the giddily obsessed Knives, he runs into the roadblocks of her exes along the way. Each of the evil exes, which I will not go into too much detail about because discovering them is part of the fun, comes straight out of a videogame. The more Ramona reveals to Scott about her relationship with them, the more ammo he has to defeat them. I'm not too immersed in videogame culture, but I noticed the references to GUITAR HERO, TONY HAWK and MORTAL KOMBAT along the way. Just so you get a taste of what Scott is up against, here are quick looks at three of the seven exes. Lucas Lee (Chris Evans, FANTASTIC FOUR) is ex-skateboarder turned Hollywood action star. Todd Ingram (Brandon Routh, SUPERMAN RETURNS) is a rock star who has special psychic abilities thanks to his veganism. Gideon Gordon Graves (Jason Schwartzman, THE DARJEELING LIMITED) is a pretentious record exec who has mind control powers.
Of course, the evil exes represent the emotional baggage that Ramona brings into her relationship with Scott and if he wants a chance with her he has to overcome it. But Scott has his own baggage. While still charming in his oblivious innocence, he can be a cad. Just ask Knives. He too has an evil ex. Scott dated rock star Envy Adams (Brie Larson, GREENBERG) when she was known as Natalie. She resulted in his phobia about haircuts. Long story, you have to see the movie.
Wright, working from a script he co-wrote with Michael Bacall, handles all the manically paced material with deft comic timing. The film is populated with an enormous cast of characters that somehow are able to stand out and hold their own. Scott's bandmates include the worrisome Stephen Stills (Mark Webber, BROKEN FLOWERS), who with a name like that can't be too far away from rock 'n roll stardom, and bitter drummer Kim Pine (Alison Pill, MILK), who is another one of Scott's jilted exes. Wallace Wells (Kieran Culkin, IGBY GOES DOWN) is the wittiest gay roommate anyone could ask for. He's also a master texter. Young Neil (Johnny Simmons, JENNIFER'S BODY) is the band's friend and he's a little slow. At a band practice, Knives asks him what he plays and he says Tetrus. Julie Powers (Aubrey Plaza, FUNNY PEOPLE) seems to work everywhere Scott goes and is there just to give him a hard time.
I will say that I was happy that evil exes five and six where twins, but overall the concept provided enough surprises along the way to keep me compelled. But then again the fights are simply comic interludes in the development of the love triangle. SCOTT PILGRIM mines its physical metaphor of battling exes in a videogame-inspired world to its fullest extent. At one point Scott earns a 1-up and is asked what he's going to do next. His response is to get a life. There's more going on here than just getting to the next ex. Scott Pilgrim is the player and this is a game that's exciting to watch him play.