Sunday, August 15, 2010

REVIEW: Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

The first thought that came to my mind after I saw Scott Pilgrim vs. the World was "Why isn't Mary Elizabeth Winstead a bigger star?"

That may strike some as a strange reaction since they might be geeking out over the wild candy-colored visuals and video game theatrics. And still others who know me may roll their eyes a bit, knowing my predilection for charming young actresses such as Amy Adam, Lea Michele and  Anna Kendrick. Added bonus: Kendrick is in this movie as well! Ah, me.

But hear me out here. I'm not just being mooney-eyed, I'm utterly serious. Winstead (who was also in Sky High, Live Free or Die Hard and Grindhouse) is a key part of what makes this very imaginative movie work. Of course, she has to be an object of desire. Not a challenge. But she also has to project an contradictory air of approachability and aloofness. Her Romana has to be charming enough to be endearing, but she  must also give the impression of someone who has been around the block  several times and is therefore hard to impress. When a guy gets her, he has to feel he's not only jumped through a hoop to get her, but through a ring of fire.

And in the case of Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera), that ring of fire is not just a figure of speech. Not long after he and Ramona start to date, Scott discovers he must defeat her seven evil exes, all of whom have super powers of some kind. Strangely enough, so does Scott, when provoked.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is an invigorating ode to comic books and especially video games. And it struck me how much I enjoyed all the play, because out of all the arenas of pop culture, comic books and video games are the ones I am least plugged into.

However, director Edgar Wright makes those worlds collide with considerable visual ingenuity. The imaginative, offbeat filmmaker who gave us Shaun of the Dead and the even better Hot Fuzz has loads of fun with the visuals. Not only do Batman-esques POWs and BAMs appear on screen, so do little animated hearts in a love scene, or  D's thundering from a bass. And Wright sometimes deploys text-on-screen descriptors of the characters as well. (Begin film geek talk). He also mixes aspect ratios, shooting most of the movie in the flat 1.85 ratio, but switching to anamorphic lenses and the Scope ratio for many of the fight scenes. (End film geek talk).

Scott Pilgrim has much of the same visual playfulness that pervaded the Wachowski Brothers' Speed Racer, but Scott Pilgrim has something that Speed Racer was missing: human connection. There's the aforementioned Winstead, but Cera fills the bill nicely in the title role. Yes, he's once again playing the charming geek, but he puts a nice spin on it with all the physical acting the part requires. Ellen Wong is spirited and touching as Knives Chau, the teenager who crushes on Scott, but is crushed in turn when he falls for Ramona.

Sometimes Scott Pilgrim vs. the World gets a little too spirited for its own good, as the action threatens to overwhelm the characters, especially in the overstuffed climax, but the charm of the actors keeps the movie in check. Whether it makes Mary Elizabeth Winstead a bigger star or not, I hope it finds an audience that isn't just geeky.


More Winstead goodness: A scene from Tarantino's Death Proof, in which she shows some impressive vocal chops. So we have an actress who sings, sings a song sung by the Beatles  - and sings it WELL.

Quentin should have kept this scene and deleted some of that blather he left in the movie.

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