Screening Log #7: Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2010)

For me, a child who passed through adolescence in the 90’s and possessed of an intense love of the comic medium, the recent surge into financial and cultural viability of comics and graphic novels has been sort of astounding. Born into the right generation as I moved into the lucrative 20-something target audience of Hollywood, I’ve seen studios and companies line up to commodify and market many of the sacred idols of my youth: Spider-Man, Batman, The X-Men, etc. I still have numerous boxes of comics in my closet at my parents house and these adaptations were met with both excitement and a skeptical eye. The adaptation of those stalwart figures of the super hero model of comic books, and their subsequent financial successes, has opened the door for many other comic adaptations to be made: Sin City, A History of Violence and Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World. I’ve never read the source material behind Scott Pilgrim, but I know people who have and they speak highly of it. The trailer looked good, I am a fan of Edgar Wright‘s work and Michael Cera (to an extent) so I looked forward to checking out the film.

The film follows Scott Pilgrim (Cera) and his discovery of the woman of his dreams, Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and subsequently has to fight her 7 evil exes and come to terms with his own romantic past, both recent and distant. Pilgrim is surrounded by a supportive and often hilarious group of friends and family including his band – Sex Bob-Omb – his gay roommate and his younger sister. The cast all perform admirably in their roles, and are charming and real; Pilgrim’s family and friends providing a foil against the cartoonish villainy of the array of exes. Pilgrim functions, as any heroic protagonist must, as a stand-in for the (largely) male audience in both their failings and triumphs; the character captures the spirit of an emerging adult coming to grips with maturing in a culture composed of ever-shrinking attention spans, the alienating and collapsing effects of the internet and cell-phones on interpersonal interaction and relation to the world, personal responsibility and accountability.

It is in this that Wright’s direction truly shines, capturing the energy of the comic panel and its ability to exploit the gaps between frames – such as a recurring gag wherein Scott inexplicably has a hat on in the shot immediately following any mention of his needing a haircut – to create both drama and humour. The film begins with a pixellated presentation of the Universal Studios logo and a midi rendition of its ubiquitous accompanying orchestration, signalling the world that the film will take place in. Wright is able to manipulate spatial relationships both to replicate the disjunct between panels and pages of the comic and the manner that the digital age has collapsed the space that differentiates between people and places. Pilgrim’s emotional and spiritual crisis becomes not only symptomatic of, but directly expresses, this new modality of being-in-the-world experienced by Pilgrim’s digital generation. His plight is familiarly a trial of coming-of-age but here is placed in a context that accurately reflects the conditions in which this maturation takes place in society now.

In the hands of another filmmaker these tasks, and a sense of fidelity to the source material, may have over-wrought the film into abstractness and glib dialogue; as with both Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, however, Wright injects a necessary sense of character and heart into the proceedings. Even in his work with the show Spaced Wright exhibited a keen sense of balance in terms of where to draw the line before tribute or homage tipped into pastiche and undermined any sense of sincerity to be found in his work. This judicious, and maybe instinctive, quality is necessary to the success of Scott Pilgrim and allows the film to succeed as it does. Incorporating auditory and visual cues from sources as disparate as The Legend of Zelda and Seinfeld, Wright is able to lovingly craft an adaptation of the graphic novel that remains true to the spirit of the original, being light, entertaining and hilarious, while speaking to how its vision may be applied to the screen and, indeed, how it both speak to a cultural zeitgeist.

One Response to “Screening Log #7: Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2010)”
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  1. […] taking on an important cultural cache in conjunction with the movie. I still believe, as I stated here, that this film does much to make an accurate and pertinent commentary on the way lives are lived […]

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