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Storytelling Slacks in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

  • Christian Hamaker Contributing Writer
  • Updated Nov 11, 2010
Storytelling Slacks in <i>Scott Pilgrim vs. the World</i>

DVD Release Date:  November 9, 2010
Theatrical Release Date:  August 13, 2010
Rating:  PG-13 (for stylized violence, sexual content, language and drug references)
Genre:  Comedy
Run Time:  112 min.
Director:  Edgar Wright
Actors:  Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Kieran Culkin, Ellen Wong, Anna Kendrick, Brandon Routh, Jason Schwartzman, Brie Larson, Mark Webber, Alison Pill

For years, movies have been incorporating elements of video games into their storytelling. If the films themselves weren't based entirely on a popular video game (Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, Super Mario Bros., Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li), they sometimes drew upon stylized video-game violence for their action sequences.

Critics have not been kind to the mechanical acting and narratives of such films, but the trend toward the video game-ization of feature films has picked up speed in recent years, as Hollywood, bereft of original story ideas, looks to video games as another source of presold concepts and characters from which to draw. And why not? The video game industry has thrived, and it continues to extend its tentacles into all aspects of pop culture, creating a generation of young male adults who have "failed to launch." These men choose to live at home, not work, and—you guessed it—play video games each day.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is a movie for them. Initially mystifying, the film has an episodic structure that grows tiresome before segueing into plain annoying. Gamers will understand the film's structure and hodgepodge approach to storytelling—or so I'm told—but the rest of us, who demand a smidgeon of narrative and stylistic consistency, will wonder what Scott Pilgrim has wrought. Is it a late-summer blip on the radar screen that will make a quick trip to DVD? Or is it emblematic of a shift to more "mashup" stories—tales that throw together elements from different genres, forming a pastiche of scenes, characters and moods that are supposed to coalesce into a satisfying tale?

Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) is content to be a slacker. The 22-year-old plays in a band and dates a high-school-age girl who goes by the name Knives (Ellen Wong), but he pines for Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), whose presence draws Scott like a moth to a flame. He works up the courage to talk to her and with a little persistence, becomes her boyfriend.

There's just one problem: Ramona has seven ex-boyfriends. Seven evil ex-boyfriends, as the movie describes them. For Scott to win Ramona's hand on a more permanent basis, he'll have to battle each of the seven exes. This he does through a series of confrontations that end with Scott employing super-skills to dispatch Ramona's villainous ex-beaus.

Scott also has to deal with his moody gay roommate, Wallace (Kieran Culkin), and advice from his sister (Anna Kendrick), both of whom are more interesting—albeit obnoxious—characters than Scott himself, who is a bit of a spaced-out dimwit. When one of Scott's own old flames shows up to complicate matters further, we can only wonder what she saw in Scott.

That's it. That's the storyline. To keep the stitched-together scenes lively, director Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz), adapting Bryan Lee O'Malley's graphic novel, incorporates comic-book visuals and sitcom laugh tracks—anything to keep viewers from giving the unfolding story much thought. The film jumps from one disconnected scene to another, with the bare outline of a narrative to hold it together. Winstead gives Ramona a soulful undercurrent that Cera never generates for Scott. We get only some effective deadpan remarks—Cera's specialty—but it's far from enough to make us care one whit about Scott's fate.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is, at best, a diversion with decent performances from some promising young actors. But those actors will have to find stories that let their characters grow and develop in ways that Scott Pilgrim never approaches. Like the main character, the movie has a bad case of arrested development.

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  • Language/Profanity:  Lord's name taken in vain; "a" word; "s" word; "f" word; a middle finger is extended; a band is named Sex Bob-omb; "sloppy seconds"; "boob."
  • Smoking/Drinking/Drugs:  Scott says he doesn't drink, but others remember him being drunk; Wallace is shown drunk; cavalier talk about drug use; an invitation to get a beer.
  • Sex/Nudity:  A 22-year-old dates a teenager; a gay roommate is shown waking up beside Scott and other men; Scott and Ramona go to bed, and they kiss while still partially clothed; men kiss; provocative dancing; talk of getting to second base; make-out session; reference to an earlier homosexual encounter; cleavage.
  • Violence/Crime:  Several video-game style fight scenes and comic-book fight imagery; a man fakes shooting himself in the head; a person explodes.