By Eric Jaffe
When people ask me to list my favorite comedies, there are three titles that come to mind. Those titles are: “The Big Lebowski”, “Shaun of the Dead”, and “Hot Fuzz”. Excluding “The Big Lebowski”, which was made by The Coen Brothers, the remaining films on this list have one thing in common -- Edgar Wright.
This weekend saw the release of Mr. Wright’s third and most ambitious film to date – “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World”. Starring Michael Cera as the title character, “Scott Pilgrim” tells the story of a 22-year-old Canadian slacker on a quest for true love. Early in the film, we learn that Scott is the bassist for an indy rock band called “The Sex Bob-ombs”. We also learn that he is dating a 17-year-old Asian girl, spends a great majority of his time moping about an ex-girlfriend, and sleeps in the same bed as his very gay roommate (Kieran Culkin). In short, Scott Pilgrim is a pretty sad individual. At least until he meets Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead).
Ramona Flowers is (literally) the girl of Scott’s dreams. After a single physical encounter at a local house party, our protagonist decides that he will do anything necessary to win Ramona’s heart. It’s a good thing that Scott is so game because, as we learn soon after, in order to date Ramona, he’s going to have to defeat her seven evil exes. And I don’t mean “defeat” as in make himself standout, I mean the “fight to the death” type of “defeat” – Tekken style. All of this comes at you very suddenly, especially because until this point “Scott Pilgrim” played more like a hipster “(500) Days of Summer” than it did like “Kick-Ass”. But this is where the fun comes in.
The sweet romance story that we were introduced to in the opening scenes of the film dives headfirst into video game territory, complete with power-ups, bonus rounds, and incredibly well-choreographed martial arts sequences (courtesy of Bill Pope, the man behind “The Matrix”). Every ex takes on the form of a video game boss, each complete with his (or, in one case, her) own set of powers. Also, like video game bosses, the exes become increasingly difficult to defeat with each round. This is the only movie that I have ever seen where defeated enemies become coins and I’ll be damned if I don’t appreciate that.
In addition to the video game elements of the film, Wright also populates the film with comic book staples such as split screens, jump cuts, animated flashbacks, and onomatopoeia sound effects. These little additions can get annoying from time-to-time but the sheer originality of the film’s editing makes them worthwhile. Tons of movies have tried capturing that comic-book-feel, but none of them have succeeded in the way “Scott Pilgrim” has. I’ve never been a fan of comics, but I loved “Scott Pilgrim”.
Acting wise, the movie is top-notch. I’ve never been a Michael Cera fan but I found him to be increasingly tolerable as Scott. This is his most physically demanding role to date and he pulled it off rather nicely. In addition to Cera, Chris Evans and Jason Schwartzman are equally hilarious as evil exes. I never thought I’d see the day that I could applaud a performance from Chris Evans but today is that day. As good as Evans and Schwartzman are, however, it’s Kieran Culkin who steals the movie as Scott’s roommate. His sarcastic undertones and witty comebacks are always top-notch and the actor’s delivery is about as good as it gets. I wasn’t very familiar with Culkin’s work seeing the film but I’m definitely interested in uncovering the rest of his filmography. I’d also like to give a special shout-out to an excellent cameo appearance by Thomas Jane (“The Punisher”), who provides one of the film’s greatest laughs.
So the big question here is: Will “Scott Pilgrim” end up on that list of my favorite comedies? Probably. It wasn’t quite as funny as “Hot Fuzz” or “Shaun of the Dead”, but the film’s over-the-top performances, stunning editing and cinematography, and incredible soundtrack (all songs were written and composed by Beck) make “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World” one of the most original and entertaining films I have ever seen and one of the best films of the year. Put this next to “Toy Story 3” and “Inception” as the summer’s best.