I left the screening for "Scott Pilgrim vs. The World" a bit confused and even more frustrated. It seemed just like the kind of thing I should like- a colorful, uproarious whirligig of post-modern fun, with Jason Schwartzman as the bad guy, and Edgar Wright as the director.
But try as I might, I just couldn’t find my way to completely liking it. Because in "Scott Pilgrim" all the pieces work. They just don’t work together.
Written by: Michael Bacall and Edgar Wright
Starring: Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Kieran Culkin
Scott Pilgrim is a nerd who shares a bed with his friend Wallace (Culkin), yet somehow manages to have some luck with the ladies. He’s sought after by Knives Chau (Ellen Wong), a pint-sized stalker who’s still in high school, but he’s mad about Ramona Flowers, a bad-ass chick with dyed-hair who’s more awesome that Scott could ever hope to be. She decides to date him, though before he can he must defeat the "League of Evil Exes," in a series of battle sequences that riff on Kung Fu films, texting, westerns and Street Fighter.
Wright is in many ways the perfect person to direct this movie, which is based on the graphic novels by Bryan Lee O’Malley. The novels are little gems of pop art- a 21st century romance as told through a video game fantasy. Wright, who also directed "Shaun of the Dead" and "Hot Fuzz", creates a slam-bang universe full of color and life. He’s peopled the landscape with a terrific supporting cast, including the lovely Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Anna Kendrick and Kieran Culkin. He goes a little overboard sometimes (especially in the action sequences, which can verge on nauseating), but it’s a solid piece within his wheelhouse.
There’s a lot of really great humor, aimed directly at the heart of Gen Y. In one memorable scene, one of the exes (Brandon Routh) has super-powers derived from the fact that he’s vegan. "When you get right down to it, vegans are just better than other people," he says. He’s then beaten when his power wanes from accidentally drinking half and half.
Winstead as Ramona is truly luminescent, and a joy to watch. Her delivery is a gentle sarcasm- you know that beneath that purple-dye exterior beats the heart of a truly kind and good person. Culkin, who appears to be channeling John Waters as every teenaged girl’s sassy gay friend, is funny and smart.
So, you’re probably asking, what’s the problem? Everything seems to be great, right down to the fantastic soundtrack (Scott Pilgrim is also in a pretty rocking band). What’s my hesitation?
I have two words for you. Michael. Cera.
I’ve grown weary of Cera. He’s got one mood, one mode of action: the slightly bored, slightly neurotic hipster. I’m tired of his hoodies with ironic sayings, and his poor man’s Woody Allen delivery. I’m tired of his good-nerd-gone-bad routine and fluffy hair. I’m tired of his whole aggravating Williamsburg indie-pop shtick.
In a movie with as much noise, and music, and hallucinatory images, why would you put it all on the thin shoulders of the kid from "Juno"? Cera cannot carry this movie in the way it needs to be. His inclusion, and the focus on him, renders the movie disjointed. He whispers his role when it needs to be shouted to be heard over the loudspeakers pumping out electronica in the background.
In short, he kind of ruins the whole thing.
I don’t want to beat up on Cera. He’s good at what he does, limited though it may be. I just wish they’d found someone more dynamic, someone who can rise above the roller-coaster of Wright’s directing. There’s a lot to be said for "Scott Pilgrim". A great leading man would have been the icing on the cake.