Finally, a comic book protagonist I can relate to: Scott Pilgrim, the 20-something slacker whose world largely revolves around his dating history (and future). The dry humour, colourful cast of characters and video-game inspired action of the graphic novels deserved to be turned into a film, but could director Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) do it justice?
The decision to condense all six volumes of the series into a single film (and to name it after the second volume) was unusual given the comic book movie penchant for sequels. Michael Cera (Scott) powers rapidly through confrontations with love interest Ramona’s seven evil exes; it doesn’t give you the opportunity to get bored, but it could give rise to some confusion, especially for those who’ve never read the novels. It also means some characters are a little underdeveloped, but respect is due for refusing to trot out six adequate films rather than a single rollercoaster through Scott’s life.
The many faces in the movie are played by a combination of well-known and lesser-known actors. Cera, who’ll be very familiar to Scott Pilgrim vs the World‘s demographic, could be viewed as a lacklustre Scott. On the one hand, who else could be called upon to play a maladjusted, awkward, guitar-playing overgrown teen? Scenes that are ‘standard’ Cera – mooning and moping over Ramona, trying to dodge difficult situations by going to the bathroom – are entirely convincing. He delivers the tongue-in-cheek puns and quotable dialogue with perfect comic timing. On the other hand, scenes that push him outside his comfort zone are less conceivable. It’s hard to reconcile how such a weedy character can so readily kick ass (it’s more believable when Ramona controls him in the fight against Roxy); but hey, this is a world where people turn into coins when they get beaten up. How real does it need to be? He’s picked up all his techniques from playing too many video games, not from years of intensive combat training!
The supporting cast is indisputably strong. Kieran Culkin’s role as roommate Wallace is one of the most memorable performances; he personifies the wit of the book series, switching between supportive sidekick and king of put-downs. Anna Kendrick’s (the annoying one out of Twilight that isn’t Bella) bit part as Scott’s obnoxious younger sister is also brilliantly delivered. They all have some excellent writing to thank, in which series author O’Malley’s style is heavily present, something his following will no doubt appreciate. The use of modern vernacular might date the film in later years (“not even!”), but for now it keeps it relatable for a teenage audience and anchors the characters firmly in the present.
The costumes also epitomise modern ‘alternative’ youth – studded belts, sweatbands and Scott’s trademark parka (it’s cold in Toronto!) again reflect the books and emphasises that these are everyday teenagers just trying to exist. Although why is Kim so unfortunate-looking? It’s her personality that’s supposed to be unmanageable, not her hair. The characters change their clothes and hairstyles as well, adhering to their individual styles without parading around in one outfit for an inordinate amount of time, which makes them a touch more real even in this peculiar alternate reality they live in.
This reality consists of beautiful snowy outdoor scenes, venues that are the typical dives that up-and-coming bands play, typical twenty-something hangouts like friends’ bedrooms, all with comic book twists. Doors in the middle of nowhere, CGI sound waves you can actually see, ‘information’ boxes (true to the novel right down to the font) and disembodied narration to fill us in on what the characters are really thinking. Split screen is also employed a great deal, the thick edges of which really put the film back into the novel – as do the partially-coloured artwork used in some of Ramona’s stories about her exes. The visuals are saturated with detail, including blink-and-you’ll-miss-it choreography (simultaneous turns of the head, Scott throwing his parcel directly into the bin behind him) and pixelated ‘game’ aspects like scores and level titles. If you bought the movie, you’re likely to pause it more than once to appreciate some of the finer details – like the roulette wheel labels in Scott’s head, to name but one. Add in some video-game-style sound effects (including the original SNES Zelda theme) and you’ve got some remarkably original sequences, not to mention distinctive action sequences that are more fun than any other game-inspired movie.
One of the most engaging aspects of the film, one which adds yet another layer of detail, is the soundtrack. It’s not difficult to tell that Sex Bob-omb’s (Scott’s band) concise numbers were written by Beck; their muted but aggressive sound is very reminiscent of his own. Their battle of the bands rivals Crash and the Boys play humorously short songs with glaringly obvious emotional themes which were written by members of Broken Social Scene. The full soundtrack is definitely worth a listen, featuring a diverse but fashionable range of bands from Black Lips to T-Rex. It’s another nod to current youth culture and a final touch of finesse that makes this film so worth seeing – and seeing more than once.
If you love stereotypical comic book movies where the goodies stop the baddies trying to destroy the world, Scott’s Precious Little Life may not appeal; but at least it doesn’t have ‘sequel’ written all over it. It does, however, carry all the hallmarks of a cult classic. So, if you’re in the mood for something refreshing, kick back with a Coke Zero – it’s Scott’s drink of choice, you know – and enjoy.