Scott Pilgrim's world - not so different from ours ~ That Movie Blogger Fella

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Scott Pilgrim's world - not so different from ours

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
My rating:

I was sorely disappointed at UIP Malaysia for not bringing in this movie. And no, it's not because our Censorship Board banned it, as was most people's initial thought when they heard this news; it was entirely the decision of the distributors. As I have just recently mentioned, I am highly suspicious of our local cinema distribs' marketing strategies. The fact that the movie was a box-office disappointment in the States must have affected their decision, or perhaps they didn't think Michael Cera was famous enough over here - which doesn't explain why they brought in frickin' Repo Men. But no point trying to guess their reasons, because they probably don't have any. (And that's my biggest beef with you morons. You all simply only.) In any case, I have finally watched Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, and I'm probably not being very objective by saying this but say it I will:

Dear UIP Malaysia. You were wrong. Malaysians would've loved this movie.

Twenty-two-year-old Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) is an inveterate slacker. He lives rent-free with his gay roommate Wallace (Kieran Culkin); plays bass for his band Sex Bob-omb for whom his ex-girlfriend Kim Pine (Allison Pill) plays drums, and is dating a high-schooler named Knives Chau (Ellen Wong), a source of scandal for all his friends and his sister Stacy (Anna Kendrick), who knows of his sordid dating history. Then he meets and falls for Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), but immediately finds himself doing battle with her League of Seven Evil Exes: Matthew Patel (Satya Bhabha), who possesses mystical powers; skateboarder-turned-action movie star Lucas Lee (Chris Evans), Todd Ingram (Brandon Routh), whose vegan diet grants him psychic powers; lesbian ninja Roxy Richter (Mae Whitman); electronic music duo the Katayanagi Twins (Shota and Keita Saito); and finally the mastermind behind it all, Gideon Graves (Jason Schwartzman).

There are few matches between filmmaker and source material as dead-on as Edgar Wright with Brian Lee O'Malley's comicbook series. Wright directed Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, two of the funniest and smartest parody comedies of the last few years (and two movies I personally liked a lot). O'Malley's comic uses videogames, specifically '90s-era 8-bit Nintendo games, as a metaphor for the romantic tribulations of Canadian slackers. It is both creators' knack for finding a beloved subject matter and poking fun at it with intelligence, incisiveness, and genuine affection, that makes Wright the perfect man to adapt Scott Pilgrim for the big screen, much more so than any other director who professes to love comicbooks. (Don't get me started on Zack Snyder's Watchmen.)

And so we get a movie that perfectly adapts the visual language of both comics and videogames to the medium of film. There are chapter titles, comicbook sound effects ("Kapow!", "D-D-D-D", "Thonk"), Scott's battles with the evil exes are announced with a "Fight!" title, and the loser bursts into showers of coins. But there's also a bit with a sitcom laugh track, a Bollywood parody, dizzying scene transitions, high-octane fight scenes, and a hundred other visual flourishes that are entirely filmic. The entire cast is pitch-perfect, and it's a large ensemble cast that includes supporting players and bit players, most of whom are colourful and interesting in their own right. And it's funny. The rapid-fire rate of jokes and gags can rival that of the Scary Movies and its ilk, except that these are far cleverer and wittier when they're not laugh-out-loud hilarious. This is not a movie you can turn your attention away from for a couple seconds. This is not a movie in which you'd want to.

But the cleverness wouldn't be as impressive if the story under it all weren't real and true and honest. Scott Pilgrim's take on love and relationships, and how messy and complicated they can be, is a fair bit more mature and realistic than your average Hollywood rom-com. Our titular hero is not actually a very nice person; he's childish, lazy, insensitive and self-centred, but in entirely understandable ways. And despite the fact that he's played by Michael Cera, he's not actually a loser with women - Ramona's the only one who reduces him to a helpless, awkward doofus. Pursuing a romance with her is a lot harder than it is with Knives, who adores him just because. Battling the Seven Evil Exes is just the external obstacle he must overcome to get the girl... but in fact, "getting the girl" isn't what Scott really needs to do so much as it is "growing the hell up".

For one thing, he has an Evil Ex of his own - rock star Envy Adams (Brie Larson), who dumped him brutally and whom he has never really gotten over. And for another, it's extremely telling that, during the final battle with the final Evil Ex, Scott "gains the Power of Love!" (represented by a flaming sword that he pulls out of his chest), and it's not enough to beat Graves. That right there makes it clear as day that this film is more than a love story, that it's about more than just love. We want romance stories to show us two people who are "meant" for each other, but that's not how real life works. In real life, no one is meant for anyone or anything - everyone just makes their own choices and lives with them. Both Scott and Ramona are living with the choices they made long ago and slowly learning to deal with the consequences thereof, in order to be better prepared for the new choices they'll make. Take note of the movie's ending, and watch it in this light.

I'm actually shocked at how critics misunderstood this film, even if it did get a respectable 81% on Rotten Tomatoes. I've heard them comment that the videogame and comicbook gags are how Scott sees the world, and that he is the film's unreliable narrator. Um, no. This is the world in which all these people live, and I think Western audiences' inability to comprehend this - not just from the critics, but also its lacklustre box-office - points to a fundamental difference between them and Asian audiences. We're used to cinema as escapism; we're used to movies showing us a world that operates not under the rules of reality, but the Rules of Cool and Funny.

And that's why I think it was a mistake for the distributors not to bring this movie to our screens, because again, Malaysians would've loved it. They may not be sophisticated enough to get its insights into love and relationships (I would've expected the critics to get them, but meh), but they would've totally gone along with its anything-goes comic energy. I would've loved to end this review by saying the American moviegoers' loss is our gain - but sadly, it's our loss too. And it's your loss as well, UIP Malaysia. The only ones who will gain are the few Malaysians who'll catch this on either DVD or their PC monitors, since I highly doubt they'll fork out good money for the original.


k0k s3n w4i said...

one of my fave movies of 2010. and i consider the graphic novels the film was based on to be one of the two most important narratives on the nature of relationships in my life. the other is haruki murakami's south of the border, west of the sun.

the movie was far more enjoyable in comparison to the graphic novels, but it sacrificed a lot of heart, i felt. ramona's subplot was completely handwaved with a total asspull - which, in the comics, possess strong allegorical gravitas. and the anti-climactic nega-scott showdown was cut out for the sake of a quick gag (which i thought was the absolutely most important moment of revelation in the comics). i brought these up not as fanboyish quibbles but as reasons why the film stopped short of greatness.

my pure fanboy complain is how much they axed kim pine's subplot - that's because she's my favourite character in the comics.

p.s. no shoutout or love for chris evans and brandon routh?

Fasyali Fadzly said...

saya dah tonton minggu lepas selepas download.

saya juga tertarik dengan pendekatan yang digunakan di dalam filem ini. filem ini sememangnya menolak realiti kehidupan manusia dan menggunakan alam 'video game' sebagai latar ceritanya.

setuju dengan apa yang saudara tulis. :)

Zaiful Zaharuddin. said...

It was listed in my must watch film list in 2010, but despite the fact that the local film distributors have cancelled to bring em here in the last minute, i was a bit dissaponted.Anyway, viva la torrent,cheers to those metafile,i get to enjoy the most COOLEST ROM-COM ever!
Plot nya tidak draggy,script sgt2 catchy! haha..
its FUN and AWESOME!
*i even downloaded the soundtrack. Coolest tune from metric,sex bob-omb,beck, and brian eno.

profwacko said...

I was waiting for this movie but turned out UIP didnt bring it to Malaysia. So, i managed to download and watched it.

Couldnt comment much on the movie, i just love it. The story, the comic effects, and even the songs, this movie indeed will be a hit here. Its a great movie to me, to bad majority of Malaysian didnt have the chance to get to know and watched this great film.

After watching it, Ive managed to get the comic and OST too. Best gilaaaa!!

profwacko said...

Not will be ... but could have been a hit here in malaysia. Bodoh UIP.. rugi2. hehe

TMBF said...

@k0k s3n w4i: Evans and Routh were great, but my review was running long as it is, and I didn't want to go into detail on the performances.

And yes, the music was great too, but if I were to talk about everything that was great in it I'd probably never finish the review. :P