(Universal Pictures) Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is the kind of movie that makes you glad movies exist. Maybe that's because it's not just a movie: it's part cartoon, part video game, part music video, part anime, part indie romance, and part comic book (it's based on Bryan Lee O'Malley's comic, itself a hybrid of Japanese and American styles). It's cute without being condescending, packed with in-jokes about relationships and pop culture, and filled with fight scenes that totally kick *ss.
Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) is a young lad living in Toronto who meets the girl of his dreams (he literally dreams about her before he meets her), Ramona (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). Unfortunately, he's already dating Knives (Ellen Wong), a 17-year-old who's slightly obsessive and certainly too young for him. Scott has recently had his heart broken by his “big ex,” Envy Adams (Brie Larson), and is using Knives to try to get over her.
The bulk of the story deals with Scott's battle to understand love and self-respect. However, it's not the usual quirky indie rom-com. Scott's plight is set up as an epic quest in which he must duel with Ramona's seven evil exes. The fight scenes are brilliantly choreographed and are as impressive as the best kung-fu films. Every movement and line of dialogue is given a dash of comic-book drama, complete with sound effects and letters floating in the air.
The dialogue is endlessly quotable: “Well, that's legitimately disappointing.” “I'll show you how ancient of history it is!” “You suck. You're surprising no one.” “Sooooo, what was all that all about?” “A gig is a gig is a gig is a gig. Maybe you can put your history aside until we get through this thing, y'know, for the band? For the band? For the band? For the band?” “Well, if there's a key element in his backstory that's gonna help me out in a critical moment of not dying, yes.” This is the kind of movie you dreamed of writing in high school. Hell, this is what life felt like in high school. Every event is heightened to world-shattering significance, but it's also juxtaposed with mundane details that make you laugh out loud. Scott's sister, Stacey (Anna Kendrick), is nearly always shown talking on her cell phone at work in front of a sign that says, “If you are using your cell phone, you will not be served.” Scott got a professional haircut three hours before he got dumped, so he's been cutting his own hair ever since. Sure, they seem ridiculous, but at the same time, you know that humans really do these things.
This is a world in which being vegan is a superpower, but it's also the real world in which being vegan is...well, kind of a superpower. Any little thing that sets you apart from other people can make you seem cooler and more attractive; the genius of Scott Pilgrim is to take those little things and blow them up larger-than-life. Plus, it never hurts to have Thomas Jane show up and deliver a line like, “It's milk and eggs, bitch.”
The film has a relentlessly manic pacing that's held together by Nigel Godrich's skillful score. In case you don't recognize the name, Godrich is often known as the sixth member of Radiohead; he's a producer, musician, and recording engineer who has worked with luminaries such as Paul McCartney, Travis, Beck, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Pavement, Air, The Sundays, U2, and R.E.M. Here, he orchestrates a wickedly intense series of set pieces with mad ferocity. The score alternates between old-school video game music and modern rock — one of the central conflicts of the story being a battle of the bands.
The visual style is so commanding that it could easily overwhelm a lesser screenplay, but Scott Pilgrim isn't just snappy dialogue and snarky one-liners. It's got heart at the center of its whirlwind, and you really do come to care about the characters. The emotional action of the film is as important as the physical action, and the nice thing is that you're never quite sure what's coming next. The story feels real in that sense — like anything can come along at any moment and upset the balance of these people's lives. None of the characters are particularly admirable to start with, but they're all learning to be better along the way.
One of the highlights of the film is Kieran Culkin as Scott's rakish gay roommate. Every line, gesture, and facial expression Culkin delivers is hilarious, making you realize that he's been seriously underused as a comic actor.
There are a multitude of reasons to watch (and purchase) Scott Pilgrim vs. the World — probably as many individual reasons as there are viewers, because the film truly has something for everyone; but the main reason is this: When a film this unique and daring actually gets made, we should support it if we want to see more like it.
For Fans Of: Kick-Ass, Ghost World, anime, Juno
Why We Like It: ridiculously witty dialogue, intense visual style, tons of pop culture references, great performances