Friday, 27 August 2010
Edgar Wright, the nasal-voiced nerd-box director behind "Shaun of the Dead", "Hot Fuzz" and "Spaced" makes his first solo outing with an adaptation of Brian Lee O'Malley's indie-slacker-action-manga-comedy comic. Can he maintain his streak of geeky comedy classics, or is his first major post-Pegg outing destined to crash and burn?
Depends on your perspective.
"Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World", judging by online chatter, blog excitement and web-based nerd-ejaculations, was one of the most anticipated films of the year but, upon its release in the United States of America, it tanked harder than Pierce Brosnan in "Goldeneye":
The internet buzz dissipated like piss in a pool and, in spite of generally positive reviews, the film has only made $20 million in its first two weeks of release. By comparison, "Vampires Suck" made almost that in its first week alone. Nice going, America!
So, "Scott Pilgrim" must be some sort of crashing disappointment, buckling under the weight of geek expectations that could never be fulfilled, right?
"Pilgrim"'s lack of financial progress is a similar kind of quality/income discrepancy as befell "Kick-Ass", where the lack of general public interest is no indicator of the sheer entertainment that the folk on the street seem unwilling to open their minds to.
The movie tells the tale of one Scott Pilgrim - a twenty-something Canadian slacker spending his days playing video games and jamming with his energetically ropey band "Sex Bob-omb" - who meets the girl of his dreams in the form of Ramona Flowers, an American girl with ever-changing hair-colour, and sets about attempting to woo her.
So far, so teen rom-com. The twist is that, in order to win Ramona's heart, Scott must defeat her seven evil ex-boyfriends in duels to the death of varying levels of chaotic ridiculousness.
This feels like the film that Edgar Wright was born to make. It plays like a feature-length episode of "Spaced", but instead of movies and TV being the main frame of pop-cultural reference, Pilgrim's world is filtered primarily through a comic book retro-gamer sensibility: Extra lives, multi-hit combos, enemies dissolving into showers of coins, anime-style motion blur and framing, and pretty much every memorable computer game sound effect from the 8-bit to the 16-bit age.
Wright has claimed the film as a spiritual musical - just with outlandish smackdowns instead of showstopping numbers - and this is a fair assessment. The battles are executed with such gleeful bravado that it is impossible to not be swept up in their infectious, inventive energy and frenetic-yet-fluid pacing.
It's not all crazy "Street Fighter" stand-offs, however, as the brilliantly cast ensemble and the sharply absurd script keep the chuckles coming even when Michael Cera isn't being punched into the sky by Anne from "Arrested Development". Cera, as Scott, reveals a hitherto unseen range: he gets angry, he smiles and laughs, he gets drunk and sarcastic, he smashes skateboards over people's heads. For most actors, this would just be taken for granted, but for Cera, anything other than his usual nervous-nerd schtick is a huge leap forward. It's as if Orlando Bloom stopped being upstaged by the furniture!
Mary Elizabeth Winstead, wielding a massive, pixellated hammer as Ramona, delivers a nerd wank-fantasy for the ages but also manages to flesh her out in ways other than the physical, rendering a flawed and believable character once she is displaced from the pedestal of Pilgrim's perceptions. The supporting players all bring something interesting to the table, from Ellen Wong's sweetly stalkerish Knives to Chris Evans chewing scenery as evil action-movie star Lucas Lee, but it is Kieran Culkin as Scott's gay room-mate, Wallace, who does most of the scene-nicking.
Coming on like a hipster Oscar Wilde, Culkin lounges through the movie, drink in hand, firing barbs and wisdom and collecting boys like he's stockpiling. He is the peak of a fine cast, each capturing the characters familiar to fans of the books whilst breathing three-dimensional fleshy life into them.
A soundtrack featuring artists such as Beck, Broken Social Scene and even the friggin Bluetones acts as the beating heart of the film, throbbing throughout the action and providing some excellently raw performance sequences from the various bands on display. It could be argued that the music is perhaps TOO good for these supposedly sucky and amateur groups, but only by the most churlish and cynical.
I was of two minds about the potential quality of this film, worrying that an excess of Adam West-esque POW-ZAP-BIFF writing on the screen, the general over-stylized tone and an incessent pace might render the film snarky, smug, cold, aloof and annoying, but I needn't have worried. "Pilgrim" is a warm, sunny, funny, tender, honest and fucking hilarious trip into the mind of a young man who should know better.
Go and see it.