In what might be the most self-aware film that I’ve ever seen, Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World provides enough visual and audio stimulation to push people close to sensory overload. However, it walks the line in a very fine manner and provides high entertainment value through its rapier wit and its eloquent charm. This is a smart film that knows how smart it is, but it’s also a cool film because it doesn’t allow itself to take itself too seriously. Director Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) showed everyone why he’s ahead of the curve when it comes to cinematic humor by giving that humor an American edge with his British sensibilities, even though the film takes place in Canada. This is a film that is trying to make you laugh, knows it’s trying to make you laugh, and knows it’s succeeding in trying to make you laugh. If a film could be your best friend, you’d want it to be this film.
Why it’s essential.
Is Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World one of the best films ever? Of course it isn’t. Is it even a great film? I would not even go so far as to say that. What this film is, and all it’s trying to be, is super-entertaining. This is a comedy with likable characters who are engaging and living through a story that, while thin, is still compelling enough to make you care about what happens. What Wright did as director and co-screenwriter is he gave us a group of young characters who were cocky, sarcastic, snarky, vulnerable, envious, empathetic, and in love all at the same time. He had every opportunity to turn the the title character into a whiny little brat, but instead gave us someone who had all of the above qualities which in turn made him someone that the audience would genuinely care about. In fact, all of the characters display at least a couple of the above qualities, even the characters who are primarily sarcastic and/or snarky, so that their individual likability comes through in their critical moments.
The comedy in this film hearkens back to the days of films like Airplane! and The Naked Gun or the old Monty Python films. While Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World is nothing like any of those films from a stylistic standpoint, it is none-the-less a movie with just as ridiculous a premise and an even more ludicrous plot line. And you know what? It doesn’t matter at all. In fact, when you’re watching a film like any of the films I mentioned, or like Scott Pilgrim Vs.the World, you have to be in the proper frame of mind in order to truly enjoy it. I think that might be the reason it has a relatively low score of 81% on Rotten Tomatoes. This is a stylized film. It has a very definite and particular point of view and it has a very definite and particular voice. If that voice and that point of view don’t jibe with your own sensibilities, then the humor in this film will be lost on you.
To that point, Edgar Wright definitely has his own style, as demonstrated in all of his films. He has a visual style that is unique to him, and that visual style accentuates the humor in his films. He doesn’t rely on witty one-liners, although he does use them, and he doesn’t rely on the same tired comedic motifs of many other comedic film makers. He uses timing and visual cues expertly to elicit laughs. Many of these cues are subtle, so it’s important to pay attention while you’re watching his films. The Youtube channel Every Frame a Painting has an excellent video on Edgar Wright’s films that explains it with much more detail and eloquence than I can provide here. Click the link below, and you’ll see what I’m talking about.
One thing they do leave out in this video in its relation to Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World is all of the graphic nuance that they use. The constant graphic D’s glowing out of a bass riff. The graphic “Ring, Ring” when a phone rings. The “click, click, click” graphic when Kim hits her drum sticks together, or the comedic use of title cards to let us know who is who and what their respective deals are in the story. This film also uses graphic novels and video games as motifs, so many of the added graphics make us feel like we’re watching a comic book mashed up with a video game. These types of graphics and imagery make Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World one of the most visually interesting films I’ve personally ever seen.
The other great thing about the characters in this film, especially many of the supporting characters is that they were played by actors who would soon be launched into super-stardom. Scott Pilgrim was played by Michael Cera (Juno, Superbad, Arrested Development); the love interest, Ramona Flowers was played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead (10 Cloverfield Lane); his ex-girlfriend Envy Adams was played by Brie Larson (Room, 21 Jump Street); his sister was played by Anna Kendrick (Pitch Perfect, Up in the Air, 50/50), and there were several other notable actors throughout the film like Chris Evans (Captain America & The Avengers series); Aubry Plaza (Parks and Recreation); Mae Whitman (The Perks of Being a Wall Flower, Parenthood); Kieran Culkin (Macauley’s brother); and Allison Pill (Milk, Midnight in Paris), and of course I would be remiss if I left out Jason Schwartzman as the leader of the League of Evil Ex’s. All of these young actors brought an energy to Scott Pilgrim that added to the entertainment value of the film. I think there’s something to be said for bringing together a bunch of hungry actors and putting them in positions to succeed, and Edgar Wright certainly did that with Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World.
What all of these great characters do is make us care about what happens to all of them in general, but specifically to Scott, and to a lesser degree Ramona. At its core, this movie is about finding the one you love and accepting any imperfections that they may have had in their pasts. Scott Pilgrim makes the point that coming to grips with the fact that we all have skeletons in our respective closets is important because those skeletons define who we are now. Our pasts make us the people that we are today, and the only way that you can love who a person is now is to accept who they were in the past. What’s more, Scott Pilgrim is also telling us that not only do you have to accept the skeletons in your partner’s closet, but in order to ever be fully able to move on with your life, you have to be able to accept and let go of the skeletons in your own closet. As long as you’re afraid that your past may some day catch up with you, or that you’re always going to be fighting with your past, you’ll never be able to appreciate what you have right in front of you, and you’ll never fully gain the self respect that you need to get respect from others.
So as you can see, there are actually pretty deep and compelling thematic elements in this film and in its story. Yes, there is a ton of eye candy, and a lot of hipster-inspired, angst driven music, and the movie is totally self-aware, all of which usually adds up to a pretty pretentious cocktail. But because we care about the characters and because we’re given these strong thematic components, along with the great personalities and idiosyncrasies that make us care about the characters, we have a film in Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World that is truly a feel-good film. It’s a film that is so cool that you don’t even realize that you’re learning something.