Monday, 13 September 2010

Scott Pilgrim Vs The World

There's a wonderful moment in Edgar Wright's landmark pop-culture series Spaced where Simon Pegg's Tim and Jessica Hynes' Daisy are squabbling over his love-life. Intercut with the frenetic, chop socky action of Tekken III on Tim's Playstation, Daisy appears to gain the upper-hand in their verbal jousting, her image pixellating in front of us and a portentous voiceover announcing: 'Daisy Steiner - WINS!'

It's the kind of fantastically witty blend of plausible reality and cinematic/videogame universe that has since become Wright's stock in-trade, continuing with Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. But imagine that one scene blown up to fit to an entire film - and one comes closer to understanding the surrealism of Wright's latest, Scott Pilgrim Vs The World. Adapted from Bryan Lee O'Malley's graphic novels (which have been compressed to suit the narrative), it's wish fulfillment for adolescents who want the jocks and frat guys to dissolve into extra lives after a firm right hook, before walking away with the girl.

Far more than Spaced or either of Wright's preceding films, Pilgrim's appeal is far more specific to a particular audience; one can sense the generational divides forming in the cinema itself. It perhaps lacks truly global appeal, being located entirely within its own heady universe that will alienate as many as it will entice. Box office takings have subsequently proved slim in the USA alone. That it works at all is testament to Wright's firm handle on proceedings, from visual and verbal wit, to casting to the obvious respect for the source material. For those on the right side of the fence, Pilgrim is terrifically entertaining.

Superbad's Michael Cera is a refreshingly deadpan cert in the title role, an invigorating, offbeat contrast to the colourful kookiness that erupts around him. We begin with his aspiring rocker Scott Pilgrim enjoying a tentative relationship with 17 year old Knives Chau (Ellen Wong). Giddy at the slightly unsavoury notion of dating a high-schooler, his muse, gay roommate Kieran Culkin, is somewhat more cynical, as are his bandmates and sister Anna Kendrick. But Pilgrim's life is turned upside down when the girl of his dreams manifests herself - literally, at a party: luridly follicled Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), coming over all Kate Winslet in Eternal Sunshine.

So begins a whirlwind romance...Before Ramona drops the bombshell that Pilgrim will have to defeat her seven evil exes (not simply ex-boyfriends, a great running gag) in battle. Swallow this without a burp as do the film's characters, and you've pierced its armour, able to relish Wright's energetic pacy direction that may mark the most successful fusion of live action and comic book to date. Phones ring onomotopoeically; fists connect with faces to exaggerated 'POW' effects; and metaphorical battles are cleverly visualised in lavish CGI.

It's a film that forces one to accept it on its own terms but thankfully Wright has assembled an excellent cast that provide a much needed sense of stability, particularly in the supporting arena, where Alison Pill, Brandon Routh, Jason Schwartzman (as the videogame 'Boss' figure behind the whole Evil Ex scheme) and Johnny Simmons are noteworthy standouts. As a skewed coming of age romance filtered through the world of Nintendo and Sega, Wright and co-writer Michael Bacall's confidence and perception is notable, not to mention their understanding of their core audience. Yet it's undeniable that what Wright has gained in budget and visual lustre he may have traded in universal appeal; time will tell if a cult following is due. For the moment, on the global scale of 'No Clue - Get's It', place Wright's oddball, energetic effort right in the middle.

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