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Monday, Aug. 16, 2010

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

Michael Cera’s indie-rock fairy tale

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The comedy Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is based on the graphic novels of Bryan Lee O’Malley, and traces of its cartoon origin are gleefully sprinkled throughout the film. When the phone rings, the word “RING” pops across the screen. When Scott Pilgrim’s punk rock band rehearses, electrical bolts radiate from the practice space. The movie is replete with the spoofing antics of a league of supervillains pitted against Scott, the amiable young man who summons his own unexpected superpowers to thwart them.

Michael Cera appears in the lead role. With his ironic smile and air of being just a bit smarter than most of the people in the room, Cera is a mild-faced, 20-something everyman, well cast as a protagonist beset by super-size versions of ordinary problems. Only hours after dreaming of a purple-haired punk girl, he encounters the girl of his dreams—and then what? The word “STALK” races across the screen as he follows Ramona around.

Initially blasé and reluctant, Ramona (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) agrees to date Scott, but there is baggage from her past to overcome in the form of the Seven Evil Exes, the supervillain caricatures Scott must defeat if he wants her. They arrive in the order Ramona knew them, starting with her seventh-grade boyfriend, the Bollywood character Matthew Patel, who crashes (literally) into Scott’s gig at the battle of the bands. Scott defeats him in an aerial ninja duel. And on it goes—young Pilgrim’s Herculean task of contending with Ramona’s past while wrestling with the broken hearts and bruised egos he has left behind.

The battles Scott engages in are funny, especially his contest with the blockhead action-movie star and his team of stunt doubles. The real hilarity, however, comes from the story’s knowing sendup of the tragically hip, sometimes too-cool edge of the alternative rock scene. Filmed with split screens and brilliant segues from scene to scene by British director Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead), Scott Pilgrim vs. The World dives into a subculture of dim, paneled basement rooms where geeks thrive alongside the arrogant lackeys of local stars, where the vegan police, arriving in a squad car with flashing green lights, arrest an idiotic rock god for drinking half-and-half in his coffee. If any detail seems a little last decade, the film has that covered with the opening fairy-tale disclaimer: “Not so long ago in the mysterious land of Toronto…”
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