Sunnytime Review Show: Scott Pilgrim Edition

Iron Man 2 didn’t earn it.  Neither did Wolverine: Origins.  But with last weekend’s release of Scott Pilgrim vs The World Matt and I had to make like Voltron and form in one place to check it out.  (An aside: Matt is the head and torso.  I’m the blue lion that always breaks and endangers the team.  THERE IS NO OTHER VOLTRON.)

Scott Pilgrim exists in an interesting place.  It’s a comic book styled like a video game, ported to a movie, and now with a video game based on it.  It’s a strange mashup of influences and yet it all comes together well.  This is most apparent right from the start, as an 8-bit Universal logo serves as the opening.

I’m not going to touch the whole Voltron business.

Looking at the box office for the weekend, I am shocked to see that it came in at 5th. I’m thinking that we may be seeing the end of the Michael Cera Era. The advertising didn’t do much to help dispel the impression that this was yet another Cera teen sex comedy. I think the fact that it is so quirky and so odd a mash-up makes it hard for Universal to sell to the masses. We may be looking at another under appreciated movie not unlike “Mystery Men.”

I hope you’re wrong on that one, considering how much I loved Mystery Men and how much the rest of the world shrugged a collective shoulder of unimpressedness.  But I’m concerned you may be right.  I don’t lay that completely at the feet of the studio since I wouldn’t know how to market it, either, but then again, that’s  not my job.

It was weird being in a packed theater that was so quiet. There were times that I’m pretty sure the three of us were the only ones laughing. I have a few friends that didn’t read the books; I haven’t had a chance to talk to them about their impression. I think that’ll be very telling as to the movie’s success.

Edgar Wright, amazingly, is able to take all of the qualities that make the comic so endearing and turn them into a live-action movie. It is incredibly well-stylized and a treat just to look at.  The storyline faithfully follows the comics, which is particularly impressive considering the movie was being written and filmed  even as the comics were being created.

No doubt, Wright should get praise for both the look of the movie and how smoothly he mashed six books together. That he and his team “got” the idea that Pilgrim is set in a video game and comic book is amazing. You see cartoony sound effects, but they’re on and off the screen so quickly that they aren’t distracting. The speed lines on characters and the nice homages to ’80’s video games all add something to the movie that most directors wouldn’t have bothered with.

The acting wasn’t quite what I had in my head when I read the books. I always pictured more of the characters as smiling, especially Scott. Perhaps that’s just my mind’s interpretation of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s art rather than the reality, but I always saw Scott as being happier (at least in the first half of the series) than Michael Cera’s version (playing Yet Another Michael Cera Character (TM) here).  The same holds true for Wallace, who loses some of his warmth when played by Kieran Culkin.

Yeah, that’s kind of a big thing keeping Scott from being a total ass. He should be almost saccharine positive, enthusiastic, and upbeat much of the time. This lack of chipper attitude and positivism takes  most of the wind out of Kim’s line about punching Scott’s life in the face. The movie really didn’t know what to do with that line. I liked Culkin as Wallace, yeah he could have been warmer, but that speaks to something lacking in the movie as a whole. O’Malley really played up the Canadianness of his characters. Outside of a handful of remarks, it’s easy to forget that this is set in Toronto.

On the upside of casting, I thought the Evil Exes were cast pitch perfectly. Jason Schwartzman leads the pack as Gideon Graves. In some ways, he’ll remind you of the character from “Rushmore” : the ultimate in passive-aggressive warriors. It was also a hoot to see Mr. Comics Movie, Chris Evans, in yet another role.

“If your life had a face I would punch you in it” is probably the best line of the book and the movie.  As for the exes, I don’t know if it was Satya Bhabha as Matthew Patel or the Bollywood dance number, but that was either too corny for me or not corny enough.  Schwartzman was definitely well-cast as Gideon.  Also well-cast: Ellen Wong as Knives Chau.  She exuded all of the excitement, youth, and enthusiasm I would hope for.

I know what you mean about Matthew Patel. I’m leaning more toward the side of it not being big and Bollywood enough. The fight/song/dance number wasn’t as big as it should have been if they were going for a Bollywood feel. You’re right about Ellen Wong. It would have been easy for her to cross over into a caricature of a fawning teenage groupie, but she didn’t. It seemed more real that way…as real as a knife fighting teen can be.

These are all fairly minor quibbles, though.  My only true complaint about the movie is Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Ramona Flowers.  She’s Scott’s dream girl, yet we never see why other than her appearance in one of his dreams.  She’s essentially a blank slate, and is never particularly warm, pleasant, or interested in Scott.  In the film she’s essentially just the prime mover to give Scott a reason to fight 7 evil exes.

Are we talking about the same Ramona Flowers? I don’t think it’s fair to blame the movie on her being a blank slate. There’s not much to her in the books. Outside of being American and mysterious what more do we really get of Ramona in the books?

I…think we’re taking about the same character?  The comics have the advantage of taking more time to show their relationship, so we at least get a little more dialogue than sarcastic asides (not that there’s anything wrong with that).  I confess to having trouble telling Ramona apart from some other characters at points in the early volumes, so by beef may extend to the comics.  The film is a delight, though, and does the justice to the comics while still carving out it’s own niche for itself.

I too really enjoyed this movie. Realistically though, I can’t see it doing well. I can’t recommend it to anyone that doesn’t either already know the source material or have a strong affection/ memory for video
games of the late ’80’s and early ’90’s.

Ditto.  I really want to recommend this movie to everyone I know, but it’s too hard to know if the madness would be their cup of tea. Instead, I feel like I should hand someone the comics and then tell them if they like it, there’s a movie too.  Which come to think of it, is a good thing for comics.

One of the other things I’d like to address is that I’ve been seeing in reviews the idea that the fight scenes are happening in Scott’s imagination.  It’s been it repeated by the actors, so I imagine that philosophy  comes from on high.  While that’s a perfectly valid interpretation, I also think it’s something of a mundane interpretation, forcing the movie world to co-habitate in our lives. We don’t ask why Mario hits bricks and collects coins, or why there are 9 identical princesses hanging out in castles, or why we have to rescue them, but he does and we do. And so does Scott.  Forcing the reality of his world to fit into the narrow confines of ours does a disservice to the world Bryan Lee O’Malley created.

Yeah, a strong endorsement of the books is a good way to go. I just hope the one does not adversely affect the other.


3 comments on “Sunnytime Review Show: Scott Pilgrim Edition

  1. Hoyt Spivey says:

    “Your BF is about to get F’d in the B” gets my vote as best line.

  2. Jesse says:

    I’ve been made aware that the idea that all of these fights are happening in Scott’s imagination came from Bryan Lee O’Malley himself. While that gives it a bit more credence to me, unless I’m miss something explicit in the text (which I may be), I’m of the school that says the author’s interpretation is no more or less valid than anyone else.

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