If urban Canadian youth were made into a video game, it would look something like Scott Pilgrim vs the World. Adapted from the comic book series by Toronto native Bryan Lee O’Malley, the film tells of the extended adolescence we wasteland Canucks tend to experience in our early twenties and gets every detail right, from the complete absence of hockey and Tim Hortons (imagine that) to the way the characters’ neuroses are reflected in their “ironic” fashion sense.
Oh, and then there’s all the video game elements in our lives, such as the one-ups and weapon upgrades that pop up after we do some much needed growing up, the sixteen-bit music that plays whenever something brightens our day, and, of course, the notion that, before a boy can date a cute girl he likes, he has to fight—nay, defeat—her seven evil exes, who, upon knockout, explode in a shower of points and coins. God, I miss my youth.
Now, I’m far from a hardcore gamer, so I’m betting a number of references flew over my head. I do recognise, however, the relationship at the heart of the movie, what it’s like to fall in love with a woman still reeling from her past, peel back the bad romances one by one, and realise her insecurities echo your own. I mean, everybody’s got baggage. For many, that realisation is a rite of passage. For others, it’s a final boss.
Combining the evocative imagery and storytelling quirks of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004), Sin City (2005), and Super Mario Bros (the Nintendo game, not the awful movie) to push through the downright epic plot, director Edgar Wright delivers a narrative experience so spectacularly insane it makes perfect sense, yet never loses sight of the characters. I really felt for Ramona Flowers, she of the seven evil exes, and thought Mary Elizabeth Winstead did a terrific job conveying the sort of superficial assurance that so often hides a wounded soul.
In fact, the entire supporting cast does a bang-up job, especially Anna Kendrick as Scott’s level-headed sister and Kieran Culkin as his sardonic yet strangely nurturing roommate. The only actor to disappoint is Michael Cera, whom I found too Michael Cera and not enough Scott Pilgrim. Still, he deserves some credit for making us understand how our hero might have thought cheating on Ramona and his teenage girlfriend, Knives Chau (Ellen Wong), a reasonable course of action. What a tool!
The seven evil exes give solid performances as well, though, as caricatures, they perhaps belong in a different category. Some represent Scott’s insecurities, like Lucas (Chris Evans), the skateboarding champion turned Hollywood superstar, and Roxy (Mae Whitman), who’s “just a little bi-furious”. Others symbolise Ramona’s own uncertainty, such as Gideon (Jason Schwartzman), who can get into her head by way of a microchip on the back of her neck. My favourite, though, is Todd (Brandon Routh), the pretentious hipster with psychic vegan powers.
It’s worth noting Scott doesn’t always fight on his own. As he battles the embodiment of their sexual insecurities, his dream girl jumps in to lend a hand (or land a punch), guiding his movements and dishing out intimate confessions. That’s a big metaphor and an even bigger step for the usually distant Ramona, who hasn’t quite figured out all that baggage wasn’t meant to be carried alone. Knives eventually joins in on the fun too, though it isn’t until our hero gains some self-respect that he gets to use his past relationships as assets. Yup, it’s another metaphor. The film dishes them out like Yoshi berries.
Scott Pilgrim vs the World isn’t just a lighthearted comic book flick, you see. It’s also a coming-of-age story, a fantasy romance, a love letter to gaming, and a celebration of youth, which comprises all of the above. As I’m writing this, the movie’s doing quite badly at the box office, which I find odd, given the popularity of the source material. It’s too bad because Edgar Wright’s thoughtful and oft times hilarious adaptation addresses such a wide audience: genre fans, video game enthusiasts, as well as anyone who’s ever been young and in love.