The last time I saw a movie more than twice in the theaters, especially when I paid for every ticket, was Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. Indeed, since I moved back to Boston two years ago, I haven’t seen many movies in the theater at all. Chalk it up to lack of time, lack of money, lack of enthusiasm, what have you. It’s odd watching the scars when I’ve only seen two or three of the Best Picture nominees. I’m extremely annoyed at myself for this, and it’s something I’m looking to try to change for the upcoming fall/winter film season.
Considering this, what is it about Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World that has led to me seeing it three times in the theater?
To be clear, I haven’t read any of the Scott Pilgrim comics. I didn’t really know much about the thing until I saw the original trailer a few months back. For a while, I didn’t realize that the film would be covering the entire content of all six Scott Pilgrim books. I expected sequels. It’s safe to say that I had no preconceived notions going into this one. I like Michael Cera fine, and while I am getting a little tired of his schtick, I don’t have any ill will toward the guy. I was mostly intrigued by the three majors actors selected for some of the evil exes, namely Brandon Routh, Chris Evans, and Jason Schwartzman. Obviously, the video game themes were stressed as a central theme in the trailer, and while they seemed enjoyable enough, I was drawn to the cast. Mary Elizabeth Winstead, which I had previously seen in Sky High, is a very beautiful woman, and well worthy of the love interest of a romantic comedy. Cera’s solid enough, the exes looked like a great group of villains, and from what I could see in the trailer of the other people in the movie, it all looked good. I was excited for the movie, surely, but it was more of a thing to do than a thing to actively look forward to. August would be very light for film releases, so it was something to give me a reason to go to the movies. That can be enough sometimes.
Then I started to see the reviews come in from San Diego. And the buzz started to build in the geek community as basically everyone on earth saw an early screening but me. And I got excited. I was fully ready to, in standard fashion, arrive at the theater sometime in the vicinity of 9 a.m. to sit down and watch what was apparently an awesome movie. As an aside, I am the type of movie-goer that approaches the actual act of watching film very seriously. There are some (many is probably more accurate) folks who consider movie-going a social event, and would never dream of going to the movies alone early in the morning on a weekend. I, on the other hand, generally find myself much more concerned with actually enjoying the movie I’m going to see, and the recipe for me to do that involves as little distraction as possible. I’ve had too many negative experiences with other people at movies that I’ve just found it easier to try and cut them out entirely. It turns out that not a lot of people are interested in seeing movies at 9 in the morning (especially R rated movies), and the tickets are stupid cheap as well. As we got closer to release weekend, I realized that the Magic 2011 Game Day would be the same day, so it looked like I wouldn’t be able to comfortably see the movie until Sunday morning.
Then, over the course of Friday and Saturday, every person I knew, or so it seemed, called me to tell me how good it was and told to me see it immediately. For a short time, I considered skipping Game Day to see the movie, but I ended up going anyway. Pretty solid logic, what with Game Day happening four times a year and the movie not going anywhere any time soon. The funny thing is that I completely overestimated the potential popularity of this film. I assumed that since it was a comic book movie starring Michael Cera, and since it had a pretty big publicity run leading up to the release, that it would be in multiple screens at each theater, and I would have plenty of opportunities to perhaps catch an afternoon showing if I bombed out of the Game Day proceedings. Turns out, I was wrong. Thus, when I ended up with a 1-2 drop playing a pretty uninspired Black/blue Eldrazi Monument list, I was stuck in Cambridge at about 3:40 pm with the next screenings of the movie firing at 3:45 and 3:50 in places I couldn’t get to quickly. The next showings after that were in the 7 pm to 8 pm range, a time I try to avoid going to the movies at all. I really don’t trust large crowds at the movie theater. I waited, and went to a 10:15 showing the next morning.
It was as good as they all said. In fact, it was exactly the kind of film I needed at the time, and one that is remarkably catered to my tastes. Bryan Lee O’Malley, the writer of the original material, is only about four years my senior, and his youth culture overlaps mine heavily. Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World is a love letter to retro video games and post-Nirvana grungy garage rock. I spent much of the early to mid 1990’s enjoying those exact things. I think the music especially is a somewhat underrated aspect of Scott Pilgrim, and the reason the film is so good. I have friends that enjoyed the film but didn’t have as much of an attachment to the musical aspect of the film. I have the soundtrack, and have had legitimate difficulty listening to other music for the past month. Specifically “Sleazy Bed Track” by The Bluetones and “It’s Getting Boring By the Sea” by Blood Red Shoes are extremely catchy and awesome. Oddly enough, the fact that the music is so good actually creates a bit of a disconnect with Scott’s character in the movie, as he constantly refers to Sex Bob-Omb as a terrible band, when they’re clearly not. A minor quibble, and one I’m not exactly upset making. This is what happens when you get Beck to write your songs. They turn out good
Obviously, most of the video game references and visual cues are extremely well done, but (and this is especially the case after multiple viewings) I found that to be the least engaging aspect of the film. It’s fine, and it’s cute and quirky, but there’s no depth. What makes me come back for more are the characters. Sure, a lot of the characters are not fully fleshed out, but they are distinct, and live and breathe as their own creations. We don’t learn a lot about Stephen Stills, or the background of Scott and Kim, or Scott’s sister throughout the run time of the movie, but the dialogue and the work of the actors are so endearing that it doesn’t really matter. This is a movie where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. There are definitely flaws; many of the characters are not fleshed out at all (chief among them are evil exes five and six, the twins), the pacing is erratic in act three, and the Scott/Ramona romance isn’t really given the opportunity to flourish in a way that makes it completely believable or genuine. In many ways, the movie plays out like the first Harry Potter film adaptation, a hyper-aggressive checklist of events that must happen to propel the lengthy plot forward as well as hit all the story beats fans of the source material would expect. Now, I cannot fully confirm my suspicions of that last sentence having not read the source material, but it wouldn’t surprise me to find out if that were the case.
I am not intimating that Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World is on the same level as the first Harry Potter film. It is, in fact, much better. It’s a testament to the quality of the acting (not to say Harry Potter 1 had bad actors, but all the venerable British badasses were in support roles, and the kids really didn’t know how to act yet), cinematography, special effects and general world building that a film with a (somewhat) structurally flawed script can captivate me to such a level that I spend my hard early free time and money on it on three separate occasions. Sometimes, the material just connects with you on a fundamental level. I can’t say I was blown away by Shaun of the Dead or Hot Fuzz, but Edgar Wright’s manic directing energy and surprisingly visionary touch made this cinema experience quite memorable. Indeed, having top flight talent is a nice safety blanket and a move that can save something that might otherwise have been just a little south of great. But that’s not the case here. In a strange way, this film evokes the same kind of emotion that I feel when I watch Almost Famous. It is the perfect distillation of a culture. You may not necessarily know why Scott and Ramona end up together at the end (it is a little random), but you believe that they should be together, and Cera and Winstead sell it to the point that it works. That’s what’s important. That’s why it’s my favorite movie of the year. It’s not in the same league as a film like Inception (Chris Nolan’s made a career out of transcending the medium), but that’s just fine. Hell, I only saw Inception once in the theaters. A moral victory for Mr. Pilgrim.
This post was written to the tune of The Arcade Fire’s Funeral