Twenty-two year-old bass player Scott Pilgrim's (Michael Cera, "Superbad," "Year One") fellow Sex Bob Bomb bandmates think it's more than a little weird that he's dating high school girl Knives Chau (Ellen Wong in a notable big screen debut), but Scott's quite happy with the arrangement after having had his heart broken the year before by Envy Adams (Brie Larson, HBO's "United States of Tara," "Greenberg") after her band broke out. But once he lays eyes on Ramona V. Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, "Grindhouse," "Live Free or Die Hard"), he is literally seeing the girl of his dreams and he's determined to win her, even if he must fight off the league of seven evil exes who stand in his way in "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World."
Cowriter (with Michael Bacall)/director Edgar Wright ("Shaun of the Dead," "Hot Fuzz") kicks the ass "Kick-Ass" merely grazed by creating a visual style that's the first to really get into the Game Boy mindset while remaining cinematic. Put a bass guitar in the hands of hero Cera and his patented shy ironically clueless sweet guy performance gains a new confidence, giving the audience a fresh perspective on the actor and some kickass rock and roll into the bargain. Pop culture in jokes abound and the extensive cast is a who's who of the young and hip. If only there weren't quite so many evil exes to battle. By the time we've gotten through four of them it's a relief to see that five and six are teamed together.
Catholic school girl Knives becomes an instant groupie when she sees her boyfriend's band in practice, but when they enter Toronto's International Battle of the Bands she doesn't know what to make of an awkward meeting with Ramona (even more uncomfortable for Scott). Before she has too much time to think about it, the first of Ramona's evil exes, Matthew Patel (Satya Bhabha), interrupts the show, but Scott handily vanquishes him after realizing that that odd life threatening email was real. Worse things await, though, including the prospect of dumping Knives and six more rivals for Ramona.
Wright, handily assisted by "Matrix" cinematographer Bill Pope, editors Jonathan Amos and Paul Machliss, production designer Marcus Rowland and songs written for Sex Bob Bomb by Beck, moves at a breakneck pace while constantly shuffling his cinematic cards. Graphic 'rollovers' identify the ages and 'ratings' of characters and contents of Scott and gay roommate Wallace Wells's (Kieran Culkin, "Igby Goes Down," "Lymelife") apartment, while a Pee Bar measures the relief of Scott's bladder in a club bathroom. Distorted perspectives of band practice space turn their audience into gamers. Distorted time allows Scott's little sister Stacey (Anna Kendrick, "Up in the Air," "Eclipse") to call and grill him about his latest misadventure the second he's told Wallace about it. The old trick of carrying one stream of dialogue over different location transitions is made fresh by the way Wright seems to highlight its artificiality, its graphic novel roots. "Seinfeld's" musical cue and laugh track signal Scott coming home. Wallace doesn't only steal other people's boyfriends, but maintains them all in his bed, popping up one by one, an unfolding Greek chorus. A dual amp battle not only reveals evil exes five and six in the Katayanagi twins, but trots out their alter egos as Twin Dragons (to Sex Bob Bomb's Kong). It's a heady mix.
Besides seeing a new side to Cera, the film surprises with its constantly evolving cast. Culkin is the king of cool as Wallace and Alison Pill's (HBO's "In Treatment," "Milk") face tells the story of Scott's prior sins as she pines for their past then lets loose on her drums. Mark Webber ("Winter Solstice," 'shrink") as the band's third member Stephen Stills plays the 'Paul Dano' part and Johnny Simmons ("Hotel for Dogs," "Jennifer's Body") has puppyish appeal as Young Neil, band-member-in-waiting. As Still's girlfriend, Aubrey Plaza (TV's "Parks and Recreation," "Funny People") adds abrasive edge as Julie Powers, the woman who pops up everywhere to advise Scott against whatever he's doing. "The Losers" Chris Evans is the proud peacock movie star Lucas Lee whose ego proves his undoing and "Superman Returns'" Brandon Routh is Scott's wittiest opponent as Envy's current boyfriend and fellow bass player Todd Ingram, whose 'she dusts' speech is one of the film's highlights. Watch for serious older indie players like Thomas Jane (HBO's "Hung") and Clifton Collins Jr. ("Sunshine Cleaning") pop up as 'vegan police.' Now Mary Elizabeth Winstead is cute, can carry off multiple hair colors (pink, blue, green) and is supposed to play aloof, but she never got me to buy just what it was about her that bowled over Scott. I kept wondering just what Cera's "Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist" costar Kat Dennings might have brought to the role instead.
Wright, and Cera for that matter, perform a perfect double flip at film's climax that acknowledges their hero isn't perfect while allowing him to move on, more tolerant and self aware (and perhaps a nod to South Park's mega-Streisand episode). "Scott pilgrim vs. the World" cannot be accused, as many other youthful adaptations have, of navel gazing. It's too busy getting it pierced while concurrently riding a skateboard.
Robin did not see this film.
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