Inside D.C. entertainment

Scott Pilgrim vs. Michael Cera

August 13, 2010 - 01:35 PM
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scott pilgrim
Finally, Michael Cera learns how to wield his flaming rod.

I saw Scott Pilgrim vs. the World nearly three weeks ago — or, in blogger time, three months — so I'm not surprised that I can't find my notes from the press screening. Normally, this would pose a problem, but this time my memory needs no aid: I remember Scott Pilgrim like I watched it yesterday. Chalk one up for decreased alcohol consumption!

The film is not, despite what you may have heard, based on a comic book, but rather a series of graphic novels (yes, there is a difference) in which Scott Pilgrim, a 23-year-old Torontonian in a garage-rock band called Sex Bob-omb, falls in love with an alterna-chick named Ramona Flowers. She's game, but there's just one little problem standing in their way — seven problems, actually. That's the number of evil ex-boyfriends who, having been heartbroken by Ramona, want to kill Scott. (I don't write for Film Comment or anything, but I'm pretty sure the "evil exes" are a metaphor for emotional baggage.)

Scott Pilgrim, then, is neither a superhero myth (Batman et al.) nor a suburban melodrama (Ghost World et al.). The film, like the books on which it's based, splits the difference instead, resulting in the one of the finest comic book or graphic novel adaptations — alright, fine, they're the same — that I've ever seen. It's certainly the most entertaining. Director Edgar Wright has shown, with films like Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, that he's as skilled with action as comedy, but his kinetic style has found the perfect source material here, allowing him to reach new heights. During action scenes, as Scott is fighting an evil ex or battling another band, the camera zooms and whirls and leaps around like a kid high on Fun Dip. Meanwhile, graphics inspired by Nintendo-era video games — extra lives! power up! — appear with appropriate frequency. In average hands, scenes like these might overwhelm the film's less dramatic moments, but Wright is equally adept at slowing the pace and building an emotional momentum that's every bit as powerful as the armrest-gripping action — and does so without ever abandoning humor. (Those video game graphics often serve as punchlines, too.)

Let's not kid ourselves, though; Michael Cera is the star of this show. For most of his career he's been the sensitive, tentative post-adolescent — a nice wuss, basically — until last year's Youth in Revolt, in which he plays both a wuss and the wuss' philandering alter-ego. That role seems to have liberated Cera, who has, as New York Magazine predicted more than two years ago, matured into a young-adult actor with Scott Pilgrim. His humor derives not from awkwardness, but rather a confident wit. And although his emotional range is still limited, he's proving that as he grows older, he can continue to play characters his own age, which can only mean good things as he approaches his 30s.

I'm not spoiling anything when I tell you that Scott eventually kills the evilest of exes, played by Jason Schwartzman (Rushmore). On paper, it reads like the passing of the torch from one precious indie icon to another, but when you actually watch it on the screen, a different story emerges: that of Cera pummeling our expectations of him.

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