Sunday, 13 February 2011

AFED #43: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (US/UK/Canada, 2010), Dir. Edgar Wright

So what's the only comics adaptation ever to receive an Oscar nomination for Best Picture? Perhaps The Dark Knight? Or how about the The Road to Perdition? Both picked up nominations - even gongs - in other categories but not the big one.

In fact you have to go all the way back to 1931 and a film called Skippy, based on Percy Crosby's comic strip and starring Jackie Cooper, who (at nine years-old) also became the youngest ever Best Actor nominee. No, I'd never heard of it either, but you know I'm now going to have to try and track it down. Wish me luck because it seems to be incredibly obscure.

The reason I bring this up is that given the number of nominations for Best Picture was increased to ten last year, it seems mean-spirited that comedy Scott Pilgrim vs. the World didn't receive this recognition. Here's a film that's original, creatively daring and far more relevant to the world we live in today than The King's Speech. Apparently misplaced notions of worthiness still abound in the corridors of AMPAS (pronounced 'impasse').


Director Edgar Wright has spent his career mining the niche of genre-blurring 'mash-ups'. I never really latched onto to the tv series that launched him, Spaced, but Shaun of the Dead is a definitive parody of zombie movies.His next, cop satire Hot Fuzz, gave me one of my most uncanny film-going experiences upon realising it had been shot in a place I'm very familiar with, the small Somerset town (technically a city, by virtue of its cathedral) of Wells, where in fact Wright himself hails from.

With Scott Pilgrim Wright has left the cosy British parochialisms behind and immersed himself in North American cultural idioms. Not being familiar with Bryan Lee O'Malley's original graphic novels it's unclear just how much of the innovation was present in the source text but its transposed to the screen with flamboyance and gusto.

Dorky actor of the moment Michael Cera stars as the eponymous Scott, a 22 year-old slacker in Toronto whose life revolves around playing bass for garage rock band Sex Bob-omb and playing arcade games. Scott's just started going out with schoolgirl Knives Chau (Ellen Wong), much to the chagrin and amusement of fellow band members of his gay roommate Wallace (Kieran Culkin), but he then meets the girl of his dreams in worldly emo chick Ramona (Mary Elizabeth Winstead).

But there's a problem: in the best tradition of martial arts video games to win Ramona Scott must defeat her seven evil ex boyfriends. Between tussling with these adversaries, the continuing attentions of Knives and Sex Bob-omb's participation in a band competition in the hope of getting signed up, our hero has his hands full.

Scott's world is a surreal hybrid of teen movie melodrama and the best and worst excesses of kung-fu movies. Everything is larger than life but delivered with playfulness; after epic battles the defeated boyfriends explode into a shower of coins and there's explicit referencing to its comic origins in the frequent use of descriptive captions.

Michael Cera is the embodiment of detached geekiness and although I find his style a little irritating and affected it's not to the film's detriment. It'll be interesting to see where his careers at a decade from now when he's no longer viable in such roles. Of the rest of the cast I particularly warmed to the jilted Ellen Wong who plays her part with infectious innocence and charm.

Wright was a child of the eighties like myself and I thought I detected the influence of John Hughes's films about teen angst and romance. Without wishing to give too much away the ending bears a definite resemblance to Some Kind of Wonderful, although substituting the 'wrong' ending of his earlier Pretty in Pink, ironically because test screenings of the original cut forced a reshoot.

The sentiment appears to be that older audiences won't get Scott Pilgrim, but this probably tells us more about the reactionary tendencies of many critics. It's a brash, loud, kinetic piece of cinema but that's modern life and you might as well demand kids hand over their X-Boxes and PS3s if you don't like it.

Interesting that the film flopped (relatively speaking) at the box office, which probably gave the ideal pretext for the awards panels to ignore it. Yet it's been doing great business on dvd, showing how modern films can have two separate lives and possibly even slightly different audiences. Take note Academy; the times they are a-changing.

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