Wednesday, February 16, 2011

238) Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010)

238) Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010) Dir: Edgar Wright Date Released: August 2010 Date Seen: July 29, 2010 Rating: 3.75/5

RV!: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010) Dir: Edgar Wright Date Released: Still August 2010 Date Seen: November 6, 2010 Rating: 4/5

I'm all Scott Pilgrim-outted at this point but I did write about it twice. Below is my first piece. And in the comments sections is my DVD review for Slant Magazine.

So this piece never ran on Cinematical but I've been told that that's not a reflection on my writing but rather a sign of my editors refusal to snipe at peers, even if they have been sniped at first. I admire that. A lot, actually.

Still, I think the piece is worthwhile and didn't just want to kill it. It'll go up on Extended Cut eventually. I just don't want to go through the hassle of figuring out what chronological # it should be assigned (long story short: I # all the feature films I've seen from start to finish for the first time in my online film journal. It's a curse.)

By now, I'm sure some of you have read Vanity Fair's James Wolcott's response to Todd Gilchrist's recent review of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World that he filed from Comic-Con. Wolcott's piece, which quotes from Shone's piece that originally responded to Gilchrist's piece (exhausting, innit?), is petty and flat-out ugly.

Briefly: both Wolcott and Shone assume that Gilchrist's presentation of the way director Edgar Wright handles Bryan Lee O'Malley's original source comics is a form of croneyism. They assume because this Cinematical that Gilchirst is a fanboy and is defensively covering for Wright, who is conspicuously also a big geek. Shone takes great offense to the following passage, excerpted in turn in Wolcott's post:

"But what's most surprising is how the movie sneaks up on you, and how it seems to know that these are its shortcomings, particularly at the beginning of the story. That I was initially bored by his dating life with Knives feels intentional in the context of the film's ending, and that he is sort of infuriatingly inactive becomes an integral part not only of the character but his eventual journey, both physical and emotional, as he navigates adversaries and obstacles of both varieties."

Shone then replied thusly:
"So Cera's infuriatingly inactive but it's integral to "his journey," and the dating scenes are slow as a setting cement but it's "intentional." For crying out loud. It's not Francis Ford Coppola we're dealing with here and even Coppola might just be able to hold himself together if Cinematical let slip with the occasional frown. But no, apparently Edgar Wright is so sensitive a creative flower that every comment must come sugar-coated, ever criticism soft-pedalled, every barb softened and proferred atop a bed of pink fuschia petals as the critic backs out of the room, blushing, curtseying and promising absolute fealty to his liege. What are these guys so terrified of? Why are these guys even reviewing?"

Yeah, why /are/ we reviewing, anyway?!

I saw Scott Pilgrim vs. the World last night and before I get into this, allow me to say: I don't know Todd Gilchrist. I just started writing for Cinematical. I did not have a long-standing love affair with the site, though I did enjoy it before writing for it. Ok? Ok. Let's go.Spoilers ahead.

I couldn't help but watch Scott Pilgrim thinking of what Todd admittedly alludes to only obliquely in his review. Wright's handling of the Scott Pilgrim comics is very literal-minded, which is not surprising considering Wright's previous projects and also in light of O'Malley's equally literal-minded comic.

But Wright's film is nothing if not deliberate. In fact, if anything, Wright's direction is over-determined though very assured in its campiness. I can't speak for Todd and I won't but Wright's problematic aeshetic confidence is both why I enjoy Scott Pilgrim vs. the World as much as I do and why I think it's a rather limited romantic comedy.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World announces its dogged devotion to the comic book logic and naivete of its main character's psyche in pretty much every damn scene. It's a story about a kid that doesn't want to grow up or face his responsibilities, so naturally his life looks like a comic book, is filled with video game references and is shot in glitzy panoramic shots that are all front-lit like a mother. Wright doesn't follow through on that line of thought and instead allows his main protagonist to mature in his own immature time and way, held by the hand by everyone around him until he really has no other choice but to grow a spine.

Then again, the same can basically be said about O'Malley's comic. That's not a valid excuse for Wright: O'Malley's comic frequently feels rushed while Wright's film announces how mannered and controlled it is--for an Edgar Wright comic book adaptation--in practically every one of its carefully blocked widescreen shots. It's like Wright took a lot of plays out of David Fincher's OCD gamebook, though that doesn't necessarily make Scott Pilgrim vs. the World or its story any more exact. I'm specifically thinking of:
  • The Knives/Ramona fight at the end is tacked on. We need a way to end Knives's story arc but by pushing that subplot to the end instead of figuring out a way to resolve that tension in another way earlier on, it feels like Knives never really got over Scott unlike in the comic, which over-emphasizes that point. 
  • We don't need Nega-Scott by the end. Felt silly in the comics, feels silly and vestigial in the movie.
  •  I was going to say that Wright should have done something to speed up the whole "Seven Evil Exes" structure of O'Malley's comics but I think the only sequence that really bugs me, or just feels flabby or even unnecessary was the fight with the twins. 
  • Subspace. I still don't know why this exists in the story beyond a very cursory way for Scott and Ramona to meet and it makes even less sense in the movie than it does in the comic.
And this is because Wright's adaptation's main problem is that it's not very ambitious nor especially thoughtful beyond a point. It's main strength is its abundance of energy, which pays off wonderfully throughout. But Wright's film eventually feels as rushed as O'Malley's comic. That race to the finish makes the film's ending rather dissatisfying: Scott Pilgrim doesn't really grow up nor does he really earn his newfound sense of self-esteem. He was guided every step of the way by his coddling friends and given more than a little help from Wright and O'Malley, who for the most part do everything they can to protect Scott's ego by allowing him to tough out his problems on the terms of his own fantasy world of friends, parties and video game references. O'Malley's comic's final volume is one long epilogue while Wright's film doesn't give itself time for any such resolution. It's too beholden to the jokes and the structure of the original comics to give itself time for genuine closure.

But in spite of my reservations, I can see Todd's point. Wright's control of his material is not what I want it to be but I understand what Todd's saying about the way Wright sympathizes with his hero's emotional journey so much that he ends up making the less kinetic scenes in the film the slowest parts in an otherwise blisteringly quick two hour-long film. Then again, even if I didn't see Todd's point, I wouldn't call him out for his opinion and assume I knew where he was coming from as Wolcott and Shone have. Because, hard though it may be to believe, that's Todd's opinion and criticizing him for it is just obnoxious and unnecessary. "Meta-criticism at its most eunuch," indeed.

1 comment:

  1. This is probably a better piece anyway: