December 20, 2014

This Week’s Popcorn

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“Scott Pilgrim vs. The World” is a match made on the cutting edge

By Michael S. Goldberger
Special to the Observer

As inevitable as the rock opera was in the late 1960s, director Edgar Wright’s “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World” creatively combines the audio-visual tools of a new generation in a kaleidoscopic mélange of mediums. It may not always be art, and may not care. But the process by which Bryan Lee O’Malley’s graphic novel is adapted is watershed striking.

While the comprehensive confluence of contemporary sensibilities humorously and arrogantly declares its turn at the palette, the ideas are sneakily inserted into a traditional, narrative structure. Which it then sets about to satirize and thumb its nose at whilst observing all its rules. There is method to the madness and an impressive consistency.

Almost as divergent as the mode of delivery, the portrayals come replete with a built-in hypocrisy. Title character Scott Pilgrim, a 23-year-old slacker played by Michael Cera, supplies the script with large portions of self-awareness prattle. In what are essentially stage whispers, he declaims his frailty, ineptitude and nobility.

It’s apparently his charm. How else could he be courting two gals? OK, so he’s in a band. Yet by his own admission, the group isn’t even that good. Still, when first we meet the geek, he’s apprising his gay roommate of the Chinese high school girl he’s dating. Oh, don’t worry, it’s totally platonic. It outrages his older sister, Stacey (Anna Kendrick).

The vociferous sibling, who owes her omniscience to the wittily lampooned cell phone milieu and Scott’s gossipy roomie, Wallace Wells (Kieran Culkin), functions as Scott’s conscience. Interjecting her diatribes with milepost regularity, the authority figure is ludicrously subjective. But it doesn’t matter. Scott’s too self-absorbed to listen, anyway.

Plus, there is suddenly the matter of Ramona Flowers, a mysterious young lady funkily played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead. Arriving in Toronto to work as a delivery person for Amazon.com, she becomes, in a classical case of the adored Venus as perceived road to salvation, The One. Add a dramatic ploy from the ancient Greeks and you have the plot.

You see, in order to win Ramona, Scott will have to defeat the gal’s seven evil ex boyfriends. Interwoven with a series of band competitions his rock group, Sex Bob-Omb, has entered in hopes of winning a recording contract, it makes for plenty of inventively orchestrated action. Surprisingly, Scott is quite the warrior for a nerd.

The seemingly endless string of battles, interspersed with comical scrutinization of Scott’s moral dilemmas — including, but not limited to high schooler Knives Chau (Ellen Wong) — is presented with cutting edge savvy, nuance and technological pizzazz. I.e.-Video game scoring and graphics are part and parcel of the comic-book-like mêlées.

Filmmaker Wright confidently shuns presumption with an incorporated self-effacement, and gains validity by chidingly reminding with intermittent footnote that his whirligig of a film shouldn’t be taken too seriously. Humbly, it’s just a logical evolution. That said, this is good, smart sociology, delivered with poetic skill.

If this Brave New World’s attention deficit-inspired argot isn’t your native tongue, however, then once the survey course in modern, youthful mores and folkways paints its enlightenment, the scenario grows a bit wearying. The boom, bang and kapow of the rock music-enhanced images lose their dazzle. Alas, the love story salvages our interest.

Good acting by the principals establishes a time-honored triangle, affirming that love is alive and well and every bit as mystifying among the high-tech generation. Mr. Cera is effective as the suitor atypical of his realm, his being comprised of a real self, an insecure id and a heroic alter ego. Naturally, we root for the latter to prevail over the evil exes.

But while we actually don’t learn much about Scott beyond his two-dimensional effusions, it’s a cornucopia of info compared to Miss Winstead’s purposely enigmatic, prized objet d’amour. Curiously, other than that she changes the color of her hair on a weekly basis and has gained the affections of seven bad boys, she remains a puzzle.

If it isn’t just a metaphor for the elusiveness of love, then it leads one to question the so-called liberation at this vanguard of our culture. Not that the men are depicted in such haloing light. Still, sister Stacey is a didactic nag; Knives is an adoring little girl; and Kim (Alison Pill), Sex Bob-Omb’s drummer still pining over Scott, is forever in a rage.

More emblematic is the nonchalance about sexual preference. Yet all the same, our protagonist is as hormonally perplexed as were Andy Hardy and Holden Caulfield. Illuminating while reasserting that the more things change, the more they stay the same, “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World” amusingly competes for your moviegoing dollars.

“Scott Pilgrim vs. The World,” rated PG-13, is a Universal Pictures release directed by Edgar Wright and stars Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Kieran Culkin.

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