Most graphic novel-based films shed the visual style of the original work, though a few have tried to present a hybrid view, notably Sin City and Warren Beatty’s Dick Tracy, but Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is the first to offer up a unique hybrid where the action, the visuals, the sets and even the scene transitions mirror the style of the original artwork.
Scott (Michael Cera) is a 23-year-old slacker living in Toronto. He has no job and just drifts from activity to activity, notably including playing bass in his band “Sex Bob-Omb.” He shares a tiny studio apartment — and bed, platonically — with his openly gay roomie Wallace (Kieran Culkin) and is dating a 17-year-old Chinese high school student, Knives Chau (Ellen Wong). He falls in love with delivery girl Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), then finds out that to date her he has to defeat her seven evil exes, known collectively as the League of Evil Exes.
I found Scott to be a hugely likable character, and I remembered many of my own awkward early-20s post-college experiences as the film progressed. There’s also a fascinating ambiguity about when the film is set: Ramona works for Amazon.ca, yet Scott and Wallace have a rotary dial phone in their studio apartment. In one of the most brilliant scenes, Scott walks into the apartment and we then see, adventuregame-style, a small text pop-up appear for each item, showing that Wallace owns almost nothing. In a similar manner, each time a new person shows up in the film, their name and a rating (“cool,” “hot,” etc.) appears on screen for a few seconds. When Scott urinates, we see a “pee bar” display slowly empty.
The film is rife with ironic and self-deprecating dialogue, including Scott’s friends challenging him about going out with Knives, a high schooler: “Have you even kissed her?” His response: “We almost held hands once.” Later in the film Scott explains to Ramona that he’s between jobs. “Between what and what?” she asks.
The first of Scott’s battles with the League of Evil Exes is with Matthew Patel (Satya Bhabha), who literally crashes through the roof of the bar where Sex Bob-Omb are playing. The fight sequences are very comic book in feel, and although they throw, punch and kick each other through walls, it doesn’t seem very violent at all. When Scott defeats Patel, his body vanishes and we see that was worth 1,000 experience points as a few silver coins fall to the floor.
“Sweet! Coins!” Scott says as he grabs them. Everyone insists that Scott break up with Knives once he starts seeing Ramona, but he’s a slacker, so each time he tries, he’s sidetracked and talks with her about something else instead. It felt very realistic:
Breakups are so difficult that most people would rather just wait for the other person to guess what’s going on.
There were so many great scenes in this film, such a great translation of the graphic novel, that I couldn’t help but be delighted. The fight sequences are whimsical, the dialogue is fresh and realistic, and the cast, from Cera on down, does a splendid job with their roles.