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Noah Forrest

By Noah Forrest

Scott Pilgrim Vs the World: Less Than Perfect, But That’s Okay

I hate to repeat the beginning of my Inception column, but Scott Pilgrim Vs the World is neither the best nor the worst movie ever.

What is it about us as a culture these days? It seems like every film, album, painting, ballet, etc. has to be categorized as either “amazing” or “terrible.” Art runs along a spectrum and I’m really sick of the Rotten Tomatoesization of the American moviegoer.

Everywhere I looked, I found people claiming that Scott Pilgrim was either going to change the way movies are made or that it was a blight on the cinematic landscape. Of course, it’s neither.

I think audiences in general were either inclined to like or dislike the film to begin with and didn’t give it a fair shake in either direction. For example, at the showing I went to, audiences started clapping as the Universal logo appeared on the screen with a old videogame console’s version of the theme song. It’s a throwaway joke that’s worthy of a smile, perhaps, maybe even a chuckle. But the audience I was with was going insane, laughing maniacally and clapping their hands together. That’s when I realized that whether or not I enjoyed the movie, I was going to have serious problems with an audience that loves everything about it.

The truth of the matter is that I did enjoy the movie. It was a fun way to spend two hours, I’ll recommend it to my buddies, and I will gladly flip it on when it shows up on cable. But it’s far from a perfect film. In fact, it’s an extremely flawed film. But that’s okay! Most movies have flaws; there are very few that are perfect from beginning to end. Ultimately, one’s enjoyment of a film comes about from ignoring a film’s faults and making excuses for them. Objectively speaking, however, there are flaws in this film just as there are in 99% of movies. I’m going to avoid doing a plot summary – you know the drill – and dive right in.

One such flaw in the film is the fact that I don’t understand why Scott Pilgrim loves Ramona Flowers. Sure, she’s attractive and all, but she has no discernible personality trait other than her aloofness. Looks only bring someone in so far and she looks great, but why does he continue to fall for her? Why does he tell her that he “lesbians” her? We are told from characters throughout the film that she is really cool, but instead of showing us how cool she is or how interesting she is, we instead have to take the film’s word for it. I get that she’s Scott’s dream girl, literally, but that doesn’t give us enough of a reason for him to love her. This might seem like a small quibble for a film that doesn’t take place in the “real” world, but love is a real emotion and I have to be able to buy that the hero of the film has real feelings for this girl or else the emotional pull of the film dies.

More than that, I don’t know understand why Ramona – or Knives Chau, for that matter – loves Scott. Throughout the film, Scott doesn’t come across as a particularly enjoyable person to be around. He’s cheap and judgmental and a cheater. He’s the kind of guy who goes to parties just so he can talk about how boring it is, the kind of guy who doesn’t have any real drive or ambition, who just floats through life not accomplishing very much. In other words, he’s not exactly the kind of guy I would peg for a real ladykiller, yet he’s got three different women desperate for his affection.

But that brings me to a big positive about the film: Michael Cera gives one of his most nuanced and interesting performances yet. I’ve been dismissive of his abilities as an actor, complaining about his sameness, but here he actually turns his “persona” on its head a little bit. Sure, he’s still mumbly and a bit whiny and sarcastic, but he’s also not a “nice” guy despite the fact that Ramona tells him that he’s the nicest guy she’s ever dated; after meeting her exes, it seems like pretty faint praise indeed. However, this performance gives me hope that Cera is going to be able to add some layers as an actor.

I also want to say that this is easily my favorite Edgar Wright film so far because it seems like he’s actually trying to create a new kind of genre instead of simply aping other ones. I think the greatest thing that Wright accomplishes in this film, though, is the fact that he’s able to juggle so many characters. There are a lot of people in the film with major roles and we never feel like, “wait, who’s that person again?” Each person makes an impression and Wright sticks with everyone long enough to make sure that we remember them. It’s really a difficult task when you have twenty different major speaking parts and to fold them into a narrative while making each one stand out, so bravo to Wright for that.

But Wright makes a critical mistake in the pacing of the film. If this movie was a lean mean 95 minutes, it could be potentially brilliant, but the film takes a long while to get where it’s going. There’s about a half hour of set-up in the film, a lot of it dealing with Scott’s relationship with Knives and it’s never boring, but it is a bit plodding. There are scenes that could be cut entirely too – like the first time he encounters Roxy in the snow – and we wouldn’t miss anything at all except for a couple of jokes. And, of course, the fight scenes could easily be shaved – especially the last one which feels like it drags.

Having said all that, I really enjoyed the interactions between the characters. The cast is all excellent, right on down the line. My favorite character, though, has to be Wallace, Scott’s gay roommate. I happen to love Kieran Culkin as an actor; I think his performance in Igby Goes Down is one of the finest portrayals of wasted youth ever committed to screen and Culkin is so damn winning. Here, he brings that same detached charm to a film that soars every time he’s on screen. I found myself missing him when he wasn’t present during Scott’s fights, pining for his hilarious observations. I think the loudest I chuckled was when Scott fights Lucas Lee (Chris Evans) and Lucas throws Scott into a building, then Wallace points to Lucas and says to Scott, “Evil ex-boyfriend!” Writing it down doesn’t do it justice and Culkin’s delivery is perfect.

Aubrey Plaza, Anna Kendrick, Mark Webber, Alison Pill all make strong impressions (although Plaza and Kendrick are criminally underused) and I think most of the evil ex-boyfriends were clever and interesting (although the twins were definitely shrug-inducing). But, I think that Jason Schwartzman’s part goes on a bit too long. I love Schwartzman and I get that the film wanted to set him up as the “head boss,” but once again we’re told too much about him rather than shown. He’s supposed to be this really evil guy, but he doesn’t do anything that evil on screen until he hits Ramona.

And that brings me to a moment in the film where I gasped a little bit. I understand this is a film set in a world where men and women fight like videogame characters, but I felt a little uncomfortable with the blithe way in which the film handles that particular bit of violence against women. When does the violence in this film stop being about a videogame fight and start being domestic abuse? Gideon – Schwartzman’s character – hits his ex-girlfriend in the face and throws her down stairs. I’m sorry, but I can’t just jump right back into the “fun” of the film after a moment like that.

Earlier in the film when Scott fights Roxy, it’s a bit different because Roxy is the provoker and Scott is so hesitant to hit her that Ramona fights for him. And the way in which Scott defeats Roxy doesn’t involve violence at all. But, that scene where Gideon hits Ramona really rubbed me the wrong way. Perhaps I’m making a big deal out of nothing, but I don’t think that this is something that should be taken as lightly as the film seems to take it.

Moving along, let’s talk about Knives Chau (Ellen Wong) for a little bit. I don’t understand why the characters in the film spend so much time making fun of Scott for dating a 17-year-old when he’s 22. I mean, I don’t think I would’ve done it, but I don’t think I would have made fun of a friend for doing it either. It’s not that big of an age difference and it’s not like he’s even kissing her, let alone having sex with her. I’d make fun of the fact that he’s wasting his time more than I would belabor the fact that she’s 17.


But I was kind of hoping that Scott would wind up with her since she really seemed to love him for who he was. I was hoping that Scott would see that Knives had more of a personality and more of a spirit than Ramona and it seemed for a split second that the film was going to go in that direction. But then, it goes the conventional root and we see him go through the door to nowhere with a woman who is utterly without a persona


Wong deserves credit, though, for being simultaneously annoying and adorable and able to use her face for wonderful comedic effect.

The film is fun and funny for the most part. I was smiling throughout, even while I was noticing the flaws. I couldn’t get past a lot of them, but I also couldn’t help but appreciate what the film did right. My biggest worry would be that the film would merely reference pop culture and videogames and expect audiences to just lap it up (“Yes, I get it, that makes me cool!”), but the film actually makes good use of the references and turns them on their head a little bit. I especially enjoyed the way the film used the Seinfeld theme and the Sims-like “pee bar.”

I also think the film is surprisingly dense with stuff. In other words, I think there’s a lot to take in. So much is happening in the film – in terms of things popping all over the screen – that it makes it very difficult to receive all the bits in one sitting. There seemed to be a lot of things happening in the background and I’m looking forward to checking it out again to see what I missed the first time around…

…but I’m not in that much of a rush to see it again. I feel like I get it. It’s really kind of the ultimate summer popcorn movie. You pay your money, you get a few laughs and don’t have to think that much and then you walk out and talk about it for about ten minute with your buddies and go home and forget about it. And that’s fine, that’s a good thing to do, we need movies like this. I’ll take Scott Pilgrim Vs the World over a Transformers movie any day.

It’s not the greatest film ever made and that’s okay. It’s a good movie, a fun time, and this weekend that was enough for me.

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon