Thursday, August 12, 2010
Michael Cera in a wild new context
We’ve seen too many graphic novels brought to the screen, and we’ve experienced more than enough movies that strain to replicate the dizzying buzz of video games. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World fits into this over-stuffed category, but still manages to distinguish itself from the pack. The movie is a boldly conceived and wildly creative mash-up of graphic novel tropes and just about anything else director Edgar Wright seems to have thought of while adapting a half dozen of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s graphic novels for the screen.
More than a recreation of graphic novels, Scott Pilgrim is a heady celebration of the form, and if you have any tolerance for this kind of youthful filmmaking, you should have a good time.
Once you know that the movie stars Michael Cera, you also know a lot about its main character. Cera plays the title character, brainy young Scott, a guy who can be funny in a self-deprecating sort of way. It’s hardly surprising that resembles most of the other characters Cera has played in movies from Juno to Superbad to Youth In Revolt. Cera may be a one-trick pony, but he performs the trick with skill.
A small confession: I keep looking for signs of Cera’s maturation. Is this guy doomed to perpetual big-screen adolescence or some reasonable facsimile? Will Cera ever have an AARP card or will he remain in this bizarre ageless state forever?
Like some of Cera’s other characters, Scott Pilgrim is entirely of the moment. He lives with his gay roommate (Kieran Culkin) and has only one real aspiration: to win the heart of Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), the girl of his dreams. Scott’s also being pursued by the ultra-determined Knives Chu (Ellen Wong).
When the movie opens, Scott’s dating Knives; he’s 22; she’s still in high school. His friends think he should be embarrassed about the gap in their ages.
Scott also plays in (what else?) a garage band. That adds another up-to-the-minute character to the movie’s mix, Alison Pill’s surly, cynical Kim Pine, drummer of The Sex Bob-omb, a band that sounds a little better than its name might lead you to believe.
A plot of sort drives the pyrotechnics, which are served with numerous comic-book exclamations splashed across the screen.
But about that plot: To win her, Scott must fight seven of Ramona's former boyfriends. This daunting task leads to a series of vividly depicted battles with rivals that include a rock impresario portrayed by Jason Schwartzman.
Familiar to American audiences from two more traditional comedies – Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz – Wright handles the mayhem well, although it must be said that the movie’s rampant creativity seldom abates. So, yes, all the amped-up, exaggerated energy can cause you to burn out on Scott Pilgrim before the movie races across its finish line.
Maybe that was inevitable: Scott Pilgrim’s meaning resides in the many gimmicks over which Wright presides. The movie doesn’t have a style; it’s nothing but style, and it thrives on merging various forms of entertainment and popular culture.
I happened to see Scott Pilgrim the same week I saw Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child, a documentary about the New York artist who died in 1988 of a heroin overdose at the age of 28. Basquiat’s art – much praised and highly priced – set a standard for energetic fragmentation that I thought about while watching Scott Pilgrim.
For the most part, the movie’s jazzed up, juiced up images amuse, but they also vanish from memory as quickly as spent fireworks fading from a night sky. Put another way: Scott Pilgrim vs. The World can be fun while it lasts. Quite considerately, I think, it doesn't leave much in its giddy, frenzied wake.