‘Scott Pilgrim vs. The World’ Review: Everyman wins hearts, laughs

By Anthony D’Alessandro

HollywoodNews.com: Quite quickly over the last seven years, Michael Cera has become the iconic millennial’s straight man, and to his strength, is continually surrounded by acerbic, off-kilter fools onscreen. With an angelic face, Cera’s hysterical alter egos puff their lines with circumspect and struggle to keep up with life’s crazy tide. Often times, Cera archetypes must go out of their way to get the girl of their dreams, i.e. enduring work at a beachside frozen banana stand (Fox’s blessed sitcom series “Arrested Development), hoarding beer into the wrong party (“Superbad”) and transforming into an evil, hip French personality (This year’s underrated “Youth in Revolt”).

In director Edgar Wright’s charming feature adaptation of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s graphic novel “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World,” Cera, as the ad spots exclaim, must defeat the seven evil ex-boyfriends of Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), the girl whose hand he so desires.

Like Charles Grodin, Bill Murray, Fred Willard and Ray Romano, Cera can satirically knock at the everyman without knocking him completely down. Cera’s performances are infectious and well beyond his twentysomething years in timing and nuance. Many burgeoning actors at his age continue to search for their sense of character, or vie to exhibit multiple emotional levels; but Cera is completely in tune to his undertone strengths and he is the grease which spins the comedic wheels in “Scott Pilgrim.”

In the Cera canon, Scott is an evolution from the high school squares the actor has portrayed. Pilgrim, a slacker and bass guitarist for the wannabe Toronto apartment grunge band Sex-Bob-Omb, doesn’t have to worry about getting girls; he’s broken plenty of hearts which is a decent score considering Envy Adams (Brie Larson), his ex-girlfriend and established glam rocker, “kicked his heart in the ass.” As one character calls Scott, he’s “a total lady killer and wannabe jerky jerk.”

Scott takes gleeful solace in Knives Chau (vivacious newcomer Ellen Wong), a Catholic high schooler much younger than him. The two are like peas in a pod, playing ninja videogames in perfect choreographed unison. Scott is an impressionable force on Knives, and in return she becomes the band’s number one groupie. But Knives, given her innocence, is an easy fetch for Scott.

Scott lives his wrinkled life with his gay, suave roommate Wallace Wells (a wonderfully blunt Kieran Culkin), a dude who never pines for love and who snitches on Scott’s comings and goings to his sensible, younger sister played by Oscar nominee Anna Kendrick. If there’s anything of importance in Scott’s wintery days it’s his band composed of drummer and jaded ex-girlfriend Kim Pine (Alison Pill), lead guitarist/vocalist Stephen Stills (Mark Webber) and flunky aspiring bassist Young Neil (Johnny Simms). The band gets a shot in the local Battle of the Bands contest, giving them a run to ultimately be discovered by music producer titan Gideon Graves (Jason Schwartzman).

Love at first sight hits Scott when he spots Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a doe-eyed, pink-haired New York transplant who takes his breath away. If she seems familiar, it’s because Ramona once saved Scott during a desert-like nightmare. Scott must choose between the noble Knives or the unpredictable Ramona and throws his chips behind the mysterious gal. Despite being new in town, Ramona has a reputation and Scott is sternly warned by his circle, specifically the potty-mouthed Julie Powers (the glorious deadpan Aubrey Plaza), to stay away from the girl.

It becomes apparent to Scott what everyone is talking about when his first gig is disrupted by Ramona’s first ex-boyfriend, Matthew Patel (Satya Bhabha), who explodes through the roof and engages Scott in a “Matrix”-high wired fisticuffs ablazed with Nintendo videogame iconography and Japanese magna colors (Scott was warned through a crazy e-mail from Matthew, which he intentionally ignored). This is just the beginning, as Scott must battle six other exes from Ramona’s life (aka the league of execs), including celebrity skateboarder Lucas Lee (Chris Evans), vegan rocker and fellow bandmate to Scott’s ex-girlfriend Envy, Todd Ingram (Brandon Routh); Ramona’s bi-curious gone bi-furious g.f. Roxy Richter (Mae Whitman who played Cera’s g.f. in “Arrested Development”), Asian sonic synthesizer twins Kyle and Ken Katayanagi (Keita and Shota Saito) and the godfather of past lovers, Gideon Graves.

Blinging video-game fight sequences abound with the pace of a late ‘60s “Batman” TV episode, complete with onscreen labels for sounds effects (a phone ringing) or character’s emotions (Knives reveals that she’s in LOVE with Scott by exhaling the pinkish word out of her mouth). When boyfriends die at the hands of Scott, they’re reduced to a pile of Mario Brothers’ coins. Jonathan Amos and Paul Machliss kinetic editing creatively cuts different states of Scott’s life. Resonating throughout “Scott Pilgrim,” are a string of Beck’s songs, both underscoring the testosterone and romantic nature of its leading man (continued).

This carnivalesque world serves as perfect window dressing to the emotions of twentysomethings. Instead of breaking into song to emote themselves, the dramatis personae of “Scott Pilgrim” go for each others’ throats like a “Zelda” videogame. In many, ways “Scott Pilgrim” is reminiscent of a bubble-coated “Trainspotting” without the heroin and toilet scenes; a bloodless John Woo melodramatic actioner wrapped in pink cellophane.

Most of the cast members are pungent in their performances, with each character more distinguishing than the next. Cera plays Scott as a peppy, optimistic guy in a world laden with cynical folk who shrug the pursuit of love. It’s Cera’s dry sense of humor and self deprecation that continually rallies the laughs as he wryly criticizes the outrageousness of his situation. When Gideon phones to taunt Scott, Cera interrupts the foe’s bravado speech with an “Ouch!” “What is it?” asks Gideon sinisterly. “Oh, nothing, I just spilled hot cocoa on my pants,” replies Scott.

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what’s so charming about Ramona – to both Scott and her previous b.f.s. We know hardly anything about her and it seems crazy for Scott to turn his back on Knives, who so jives with him. Winstead plays Ramona’s enigma at an even keel; she isn’t any more complex than what you see, and as fickle as the best woman in life can be (against her will, without even thinking, she’s programmed to do what Gideon wants as indicated by the chip implanted in the back of her neck). What appears shallow in Ramona is more symbolic – she simply represents love as her hair changes from pink (sexuality, purity) to blue (loyalty, stability) to green (good luck) by the end of the film. If the personalities of “Scott Pilgrim” were written with the gravity of those in a John Hughes film, the comedy would lose its luster.

“Scott Pilgrim” dotes on the weight of young love, with all its kisses and warts, and how often we’re reminded that the fling was as short and adolescent as a videogame. ‘Game Over’ might be flashing on the screen, but the experience was a hell of a lot of fun — and “Scott Pilgrim” is surely that.

Photo credit: Universal

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