With Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jason Schwartzman, Knives Chau and Anna Kendrick. Directed by Edgar Wright. Rated PG-13 for stylized violence, sexual content, language and drug references. 112 minutes.
The year’s best romantic comedy – so far – turns out to be so weirdly stylized that if you fall outside the 18-25 demographic you may find yourself scratching your head. SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD, based on a popular graphic novel, is a blast, but older viewers (like this critic) have to make allowances. It’s speaking the language of its audience as the best romantic comedies have always spoken to the audiences of their eras.
Scott Pilgrim is the sort of sweet but nerdy guy who gets played these days by either Michael Cera or Jesse Eisenberg. In this case it happens to be Cera. Scott is a twenty-something in Toronto, who performs in an aspiring rock band and has a cute Asian girlfriend (Knives Chau) who is still in high school. One night at a party Scott meets Ramona (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a delivery girl who is just too cool for words.
Okay, geeky guy likes cool chick, what else is new? Amazingly she likes him back, but there’s a small problem. In order to continue seeing her he must defeat her seven exes, who have formed a league to destroy her future boyfriends. Of course this makes no sense, but that’s thinking of the movie as a reflection of reality. It’s not. It’s reality as reinterpreted through the filter of video games, where defeating a foe at one level simply takes you to the next, more difficult level. Indeed, when Scott prevails the screen lights up with the “points” he has just won.
Those of you shaking your heads in disbelief should move along to the reviews of the new Sylvester Stallone and Julia Roberts movies. You probably won’t even know anyone here. The biggest “name” actors are arguably Jason Schwartzman (as the most evil of the exes) and Anna Kendrick (as Scott’s snarky sister). You’ve undoubtedly seen them both (in movies like “Rushmore” and “Up in the Air”) but may not remember their names, which is sort of the point. This isn’t a star vehicle.
Director Edgar Wright, whose credits include “Shaun Of The Dead” and “Hot Fuzz,” is less interested in spoofing conventions than in turning them on their head. Saddling the romantic lead with a sweet girlfriend with whom he has to break up risks making him unsympathetic. Yet without humiliating the dumpee – the usual tactic – we end being happy for all concerned. By the time the film gets to the final showdown you’ve either bought into the premise or else are wondering how you got talked into seeing the film in the first place.
As the romantic leads, Cera gets to bounce back from the ill-conceived “Youth In Revolt” and “Year One” while Winstead gets a chance to break out after going along for the ride, so to speak, in movies like “Live Free Or Die Hard” and “Quentin Tarantino’s “Death Proof.” Here they have an edgy chemistry which proves exactly right.
“Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World” is the sort of movie that, if it’s a hit, is going to result in a lot of bad imitations. See the original while you have the chance.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being I’ll Have What She’s Having: Behind The Scenes Of The Great Romantic Comedies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville.