It’s really been a trip doing this project here in the last few weeks, because I’ve gotten to check back in on really recent years, getting insane flashbacks to viewing experiences and trips to the theater than honestly weren’t that long ago, and yet feel like they’re from another lifetime. Looking up the potential films to highlight has become a great source of nostalgia, warm memories of my college years, and very deflating reminders of what a pretentious piece of shit I may have been just a decade prior. And 2010 is one of the years that has given me these feelings the most, because 2010 was a year where I spent quite a bit of time at the movies, seeing just about everything. And yet, there aren’t a whole lot of movies that have stood up against the test of time for me, to remain films that I still even think about, let alone love. BUt, there are still some movies that are a whole lot of fun. I feel like people don’t talk enough about Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island, a movie that certainly feels like a bit of an outlier with the rest of his filmography, but that remains one of the best psychological horror movies of recent memory. And, keeping with that theme, I feel like Black Swan received quite a bit of attention when it came out, but it really does remain a fun and twisted film, probably my favorite of Aronofsky’s work. There’s also the Social Network, a film that sadly remains more and more prescient as time goes on, and which really does feature several different masters at the top of their game, making an exceedingly entertaining film about something that really doesn’t seem like it should be this dynamic. And, speaking of masters of filmmaking trying something a little different, I adore the Coen Brothers’ remake of True Grit, seeing them fully lean into some of their Western sensibilities to make one of the best Westerns of the twenty first century. We also have Christopher Nolan’s Inception, a truly fascinating, slightly pretentious, and thrilling movie that is probably my second favorite film of Nolan’s. Especially when you want to view the film as a metaphor for the art of film-making in general. Or, hey, have y’all seen Tucker & Dale vs Evil? I feel like that movie is highly underrated, and if you’re in the mood for a horror movie that wonderfully deconstructs the slasher genre, I can’t recommend it highly enough. But, at the end of the day I had to go with the movie that had the biggest impact on me in 2010, a film that I was terrified had aged poorly and would make me retroactively embarrassed for my younger self. And, while it certainly hit me in a much different way that it did at the time, Edgar Wright’s Scott Pilgrim vs the World has certainly aged into a very interesting film, and one that has kind of become something different for me.
As you may be aware, Scott Pilgrim vs the World is an adaptation of a very popular comic book series written and drawn by Brian Lee O’Malley. And, strangely enough, the idea for a movie version of the comic has been around since he published the first volume of the comic, when it was still in its earliest stage. O’Malley apparently wasn’t fully on-board with an adaptation, which he assumed would be a poor replication of his work, but he also really needed money, and agreed to sell the film-rights when the story was only just beginning. The project then was passed around for a while until it was eventually proposed to Edgar Wright, fresh off his successful Shaun of the Dead. Wright became fascinated with the project, and decided to really do the comic justice, making a film that replicated the world of the comic, eschewing a realistic film for a highly stylized movie that tried to be unlike anything people had seen in a live-action movie before. The film then began to take form, before the comic series was even finished, and managed to compress a six-volume comic into one movie. Wright then assembled a massive cast of actors, attempting to make sure that every role no matter how big or small, was cast with a great actor, often several up and coming or even completely unknown actors. And, with that taken care of, he then reached out to several alternative rock bands to write the music for the film, since it largely revolves around struggling musicians, getting songs written by groups such as Beck, Metric, and Broken Social Scene. The film was then released, after heavy marketing stemming from San Diego Comic-Con, where it promptly bombed. The film received generally good reviews, but audiences didn’t seem to have much interest in it, and the film was found to be a financial failure. But, like so many movies I’ve highlighted over the course of this film, it ended up eventually finding its audience, and becoming a cult sensation. It’s the type of movie that I’ve seen screened at packed repertory screenings, including once with a live band performing all the music. It’s a joyous, weird movie, and I love it.
As you might have guessed, the film follows the exploits of Scott Pilgrim, a 22-year-old slacker living in Toronto with his roommate Wallace, and performing in a struggling garage band called Sex Bob-Omb. And, much to everyone in his life’s chagrin, Scott has begun dating a 17-year-old girl named Knives Chau. Scott had a rather devastating break-up in the recent past, and has decided to start a relationship that’s easy with a girl who idolizes him. But, things start to get more difficult when Scott meets a woman his own age named Ramona Flowers, an America who has recently moved to Toronto. He begins pursuing Ramona, conveniently forgetting that he’s technically in a relationship with Knives, and ends up finally getting a date with Ramona, after quite a bit of awkwardness. The two end up hitting it off, and Scott decides to begin a new relationship with Ramona, inviting her to a battle of the bands that Sex Bob-Omb is participating in. This becomes awkward when both Ramona and Knives arrives, but much more awkward when a man named Matthew Patel literally crashes in from the sky, challenging Scott to mortal combat. Because it turns out that Ramona has a League of Evil Exes, who Scott must defeat in combat in order to become her boyfriend. And, after a large battle, Scott wins, and finds himself put down the path of battle.
Scott ends up breaking Knives’ heart at this point, who swears vengeance against Ramona. But, Scott doesn’t really care about that, because he’s invested in his new relationship, and his new occasional battles with powerful exes. Such as Lucas Lee, a movie-star/skateboarder who battles Scott at a film-set, before Scott tricks him into spontaneously combusting while grinding on a long rail. Scott then encounter both his own evil ex, and Ramona’s next ex when they go see a performance from a band that’s headlined by Envy Adams and Todd Ingram. Todd has superpowers due to his vegan lifestyle, and he and Scott do battle after their set, including a bass-off, until Scott eventually gets Todd to drink milk, losing his abilities and setting himself up for defeat. And, almost immediately Scott and Ramona are attacked by the next Ex, Roxy Richter, who ends up fighting the two of them before being vanquished through team-work. At which point Scott has a bit of a break-down, leading him and Ramona to get in a massive fight about her dating history that ends with the two seemingly breaking up.
But, Scott is dragged out of this depression by his band-mates Stephen and Kim, because Sex Bob-Omb now has to participate in another battle of the bands against the Katayanagi Twins, Ramona’s next two Evil Exes. Sex Bob-Omb and the Twins do musical combat with each other, with Sex Bob-Omb coming out victorious, and earning a record deal with a powerful producer named Gideon Graves. Unfortunately, Graves is also one of Ramona’s Exes, and the one who put the whole thing together. And, what’s more, he has won Ramona back to his side. And, in frustration, Scott rejects the contract, getting himself kicked out of the band. But, after a period of depression and talk with his sister, Scott decides to fight for Ramona, showing up at the club that Gideon owns to win her back. Unfortunately, this results in Gideon killing Scott. Luckily though, he received an extra life earlier in the film, and uses it to come back to life, this time realizing that he needs to fight for his own sense of self-respect. And, learning from his mistakes, Scott teams up with Knives and is able to defeat Gideon, and free Ramona from mind-control that Gideon placed on her. At which point Scott and Ramona are finally free to be together, and they set out for whatever challenges life has in store for them.
Scott Pilgrim is one of those movies that really hit me light a lightning bolt when I first saw it. I’d read the comics, at least the ones that were published at the time, before seeing the film, and was very excited for it. I was also a massive fan of Edgar Wright, and felt like this was going to be a perfect marriage of film aesthetic and source material. And, I really loved it. Right from the beginning this film has a massive impact on me, because despite being a really fun movie with a great soundtrack, it really challenged what I expected a movie to be. At the time I was still flirting with the idea of becoming a movie obsessive, and I had never seen a movie like Scott Pilgrim before, one that played with the format and tried such bold and strange things. It’s a live-action film that feels constructed like an animated film, full of ridiculous asides, impossible editing, goofy sound-effects, and just a general disinterest in telling a story that feels like it’s set in any sort of reality. It’s an aesthetic that has been used quite a bit since, sometimes to disastrous results, but it was a film that seemed incredibly fresh and unique to me at the time. It’s hilarious, heartfelt, and achingly earnest, even while covering a group of massively ironic and detached people. At the time it was a film that seemed to represent everything I wanted, a life full of crazy film-making, awesome music, and people leading fun and weird lives.
But, as time has gone on, I feel like I have a very different read on the movie. Similar to my growing relationship with Almost Famous, this film has become kind of bittersweet to me. When I saw the movie as someone around Scott’s age, I found him to be a ridiculous character living a funny life. As someone now in their thirties, I now kind of pity Scott Pilgrim. He’s a complete asshole, who makes terrible decisions. But, that’s what your twenties are for. These are a bunch of people who are ostensibly adults acting like children. They’re fighting each other of who likes them and who does, like a schoolyard. Ramona and Scott have no real connection, other than being attracted to each other, and yet Scott devotes himself to a gauntlet of battles to win her affection. They probably aren’t going to work out, and Scott very well may end up becoming yet another bad ex for Ramona. But, that’s part of life. They’re just a bunch of children, trying to figure out life, while realizing that what they do has massive consequences on other people. It’s literally a film about dealing with your emotional and personal baggage, and the fact that it’s easiest to do with help from others. I’m glad that Scott Pilgrim and his motley cast of characters are no longer remotely aspirational figures, because I’ve grown past them. But, that doesn’t make them or their actions inherently bad. They’re just doing their best and experiencing life for all of its messy and complicated facets. Which we all do.
Scott Pilgrim vs the World was written by Michael Bacall and Edgar Wright, directed by Edgar Wright, and released by Universal Pictures, 2010.
Categories: Cinematic Century