It’s really no wonder that Scott Pilgrim became such a cult hit. Directed by Edgar Wright of Spaced, Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz fame, based on a series of successful graphic novels, a soundtrack from some of the world’s most acclaimed indie musicians and stellar performances from a mix of well-known names and rising stars, it had all the right elements to storm the box office.
Yet despite being a box office bomb, the DVD and Blu-ray sales more than made up for it and firmly cemented it in the hearts of geeks and movie fans worldwide. It’s been a while since I’ve seen it, so I popped it in last night and fell in love with it all over again.
22-year old abject loser Scott Pilgrim is the bassist for awful garage band Sex Bob-Omb. When the film starts, he’s in a platonic sort-of-but-not-quite-relationship with 17-year old Knives Chau, who’s hopelessly in love with him. Scott, however, doesn’t seem all too fussed and promptly throws her to the kerb when colourful-haired delivery girl Ramona Flowers shows up. She tells him that he’s going to have to defeat her seven evil exes if he wants to date her, and he absent-mindedly agrees.
If Scott comes across like an idiot and a jackass to you, then good!
He’s not meant to be a sympathetic character. Michael Cera portrays him perfectly as a whiny narcissist who’s never accountable for anything. His entire character is a huge dig at the types of “nice guys” who think that by doing anything a girl will tell them to (in this case, literally put his life on the line to prove himself) it somehow negates the cruel parts of their personality. He cheats on Knives with Ramona and, when challenged, instead of copping to it like a grown-up, tries to score brownie points by saying “Well at least I never cheated on you, Ramona!”
The entire film can be seen as a metaphor for how your past can affect your future. Ramona is constantly running, constantly changing, leaving exes behind her in the dust as she tries to stay one step ahead of the universe and avoid being tied down to anyone or anything. Scott has demons in his past too, with ex-girlfriend Envy Adams coming back to make his life hell as the singer for rising art-punk band The Clash at Demonhead. The film demonstrates how trying to ignore your past and refusing to learn from it can screw up any hope you have for your own future, and these elements are even more explicit in the comics, with more time and space to explore them properly.
So it’s a quasi-romantic-comedy with something of substance to actually say about relationships amongst young people, which already puts it above the vast majority of vapid, by-the-numbers rom-coms out there, but what else does it have to offer?
A genuinely hilarious script, for one. It’s got some endlessly quotable lines in it and some brilliant characters. Kieran Culkin is the standout of the cast for his portrayal of ‘cool gay roommate’ Wallace Wells, but the film also boasts great turns by Chris Evans as an egomaniacal skateboarder-turned-actor, Aubrey Plaza as Aubrey Plaza, Mark Webber as the anxiety-laden frontman of Sex Bob-Omb, Brandon Routh as the arrogant not-actually-vegan psychic bassist for Clash at Demonhead, and Allison Pill as Sex Bob-Omb’s misanthropic drummer and another of Scott’s exes. That’s not even half the cast there, every single actor and actress in the film contributes something memorable to the experience and makes it a gut-aching watch.
It’s also something to behold visually, too. Wright decided to replicate the look of the comics on the big screen, so the film is replete with visible sound effects, VS and KO! text for the fight scenes and neat tricks like an endless string of D notes appearing in time with the basslines in the bass battle between Scott and Brandon Routh’s Todd Ingram. The result is a film which really pops in a way that I haven’t seen many other films do, bringing the video game-inspired world of Scott Pilgrim‘s Toronto to life with all the colour and style it deserves. The fight scenes are unlike any I’ve ever seen, packed with heaps of visual flair and tight choreography from actors you would never expect (seriously, who could ever have imagined a martial arts film with a final fight between Michael Cera and Jason Schwartzmann?)
And the music. Man, the music! They managed to pull in some highly-regarded musicians to create the sounds of each of the bands in the film. Beck composed for Sex Bob-Omb’s low-fi garage punk sound, while Metric provided the synth-laden dance-punk of Clash at Demonhead. In a striking departure from most film soundtracks, the actors and actresses performed the songs themselves – not such a hard task for Brie Larson, who is a professional singer, or Cera who already played bass, but for actors like Mark Webber to come in with no musical training and perform the songs accurately, that’s a huge commitment that they really pulled off.
Scott Pilgrim vs the World is a film that gets all the elements right. Enough legitimate nods to geek culture without saturating itself in them, awesome fight scenes, a great soundtrack, a perfect script, brilliant performances and a genuine heartfelt message about growing up and relationships. Really, what more do you want from a film? Now, say it with me: WE ARE SEX BOB-OMB! ONE TWO THREE FOUR!