Three for Three: Thoughts post Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World

Part of me is still reeling from the sensory overload that is Scott Pilgrim vs The World. It’s a multicolored, anime inspired, frenetic mess of great characters and biting cultural references. Even more it’s proof that director Edgar Wright is a gifted storyteller and is now three for three in making instant cult classic movies. However I wonder if many watching Scott Pilgrim will see the subtleties of Wright’s genius in this movie.

One of the things that Pilgrim reminded me, and made me appreciate about Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, is that Wright really has a talent for honestly presenting flawed characters. In all three movies none of the characters presented are perfect and their faults are obviously displayed for all to see. Even Hot Fuzz’s loving send up of buddy cop action movies is done with a wink knowing full well those movies weak points. With Scott Pilgrim however, Wright turns his gaze directly at the white hipster/loser geek subculture. Here again there is both a certain love/appreciation and at times a brutal honesty that upon reflection is actually surprising. It’s also that honesty that I think most watching Scott Pilgrim will misunderstand.

The thing that I found surprising about this movie and was subsequently surprised that I was surprised was the fact that for all of the twenty-something angst no one is a victim. Period. In fact Wright goes out of his way in one scene to show Scott’s “rich” upbringing. There isn’t one mention of parental abandonment or a “deprived” upbringing. Rather in contrast everyone is in the situation they find themselves in through their own choices. This is what makes Pilgrim a bit uncomfortable in our modern therapeutic mindset and it’s surprising because it shows that Wright refused to take the easy way out.

It would have been much easier for both the story and the actors if Ramona had simply been naïve and innocent, the victim of evil exes. It would have been easier to make Scott the hapless and put upon good guy who doesn’t deserve all this trouble. But in fact it’s just the opposite. Ramona is a selfish heartbreaker and self admitted bit of a bitch. Scott is also selfish, and pathetic, and uses his “patheticness” as cover for his selfishness. It’s this honesty that is easy to misread as you would think this is a love story. Rather, this is a story of self realization “love” has little to do with it. In fact the difficulty in this movie is that the characters almost run the risk of being too unlikable for you to care about any of them. But there is love behind Wright’s brutal honesty.

Part of what perhaps makes Scott Pilgrim special is that it was both written and directed by someone who obviously has walked in the hipster/loser scene and appreciates the funny/good while acknowledging the negative. There is no romanticism aka Kevin Smith, but on the other hand there isn’t a biting cynicism either. It’s more like someone is saying to the characters, “There’s more to you than this, you can be better than this, just be honest for crying out loud!” Admit you’re selfish, admit you’re selling out, admit you eat chicken parmigiana and aren’t better than anyone else, admit that what every single person who cares about you tells you about you is true. It’s interesting that there is little condemnation for being “yourself” as long as it’s acknowledged and dealt with. What is condemned is a “posing” that thinks a change of scenery, or the “right” person will change who you are.

But of course all this is packed into layer upon layer of cultural reference, sight gag, thumping bass. Like Wright’s previous two movies I’m sure I’ll get more upon subsequent viewings. More laughter and more thought. Which is why He’s three for three.

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