Saturday, August 14, 2010

Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World: Another (Opposing) View

In yesterday’s Critics at Large, Mark Clamen weighed in on what is likely to become a major cult hit, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, He liked the movie. I didn’t. Here’s why.

I should point out that, unlike Mark, I haven’t read the graphic novels upon which the movie is based. But since Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World is apparently quite faithful to its source material, I don’t think that matters all that much. More to the point, I don’t get what’s so great about this film, whose story has nerdy, anal and self-involved Torontonian Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) falling for Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) a new (American) girl in town and, in order to keep her, being forced to fight  to the death with her seven evil exes. That’s pretty much the whole story and after ex- number two showed up on the scene, I was getting bored of the whole affair.

I agree with Mark that Kieran Culkin as Wallace Wells, Scott’s gay roommate, is fine and funny in his role and that Cera (Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, Juno) spins some nice variations on his usual sad sack, sensitive persona. He also has an appealing chemistry with Winstead; you believe that Scott would want to date Ramona. Mark also points out, correctly, that most of the film’s characterizations are thin but feels that Scott Pilgrim is inventive, fun and original enough to compensate for those flaws. And that’s where we part ways.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World may be original or more accurately original looking – it evokes the helter-skelter speed and patterns of a video game – but it’s awfully superficial and empty, in the same manner as Christopher Nolan’s Inception, this summer’s other unduly praised movie. There really isn’t a lot going on in Scott Pilgrim, particularly in terms of observations on twenty something life, its key selling point, especially when compared to the sharp Michael Cera film Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist (2008). That film covered the same romantic ground as Scott Pilgrim, minus the battles, and displayed the same gay-friendly, loose attitude to life but it did it with more panache, depth, wit and style. And let's not to forget, it boasted one of the best soundtracks of recent years, with music by The National, Vampire Weekend and Mark Mothersbaugh, among others. As for the much remarked upon Toronto/Canadian references in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, saluting the local pizza places, coffee shops, record shops and clubs in the city’s Annex neighbourhood, while they were a pleasant surprise, coming from an American studio film, they were also just window dressing. There’s no real commentary underlying them. Scott is one tough Canadian when he has to be, so any possible comparisons between meek Canadians and violent Americans are moot. Canadian references do not equal a Canadian sensibility. If you want that, check out the brilliant apocalyptic science fiction film Last Night (1999), from Toronto director Don McKellar, who has a too brief cameo in Scott Pilgrim. It doesn’t help Scott Pilgrim, either, that so many of the performances and performers in the movie were so bad, especially Alison Pill (Milk) as Scott's fellow band mate and former girlfriend, Anna Kendrick (Up in the Air) as Scott’s snooty sister and, not surprisingly, Jason Schwartzman (Rushmore), as one of Ramona’s exes; I did like the vegan ex (Brandon Routh of Superman Returns), though more for his dialogue than his acting. (The movie isn't entirely devoid of wit.)

While watching Scott Pilgrim, and knowing that the glib directorial hand of Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead) was all over the film, I couldn’t help feeling that I was being sold a bill of goods that the filmmakers were frantically trying (and failing) to convince me to buy. But I found nothing new and special going on here. Compared to most of the dreck being spewed out of Hollywood this summer (Grown Ups, Get Him to The Greek, Salt, Inception), perhaps there is. But to my critical eyes, Scott Pilgrim appears as simply a juvenile, banal and even stupid film. Cult hit or not, I just don't get its appeal.
-- Shlomo Schwartzberg is a film critic, teacher and arts journalist based in Toronto.


  1. All due respect Shlomo, your article lacks the contextual requisites necessary to be taken as a quality critique. Perhaps not reading the graphic novels (which you mention briefly but dismiss as unimportant) hindered your ability to appreciate it and understand and experience its appeal. Mr. Clamen's article is far superior in content, quality, context and appreciation. I look forward to your next review, maybe you'll do the background work necessary to give it a meaningful critique.

  2. Los -- The movie should be able to stand on its own as a distinct work of art. If it can be appreciated only after reading O'Malley's books, that's a fail and they should've distributed the movie as a DVD in the last instalment of O'Malley's series.