On the surface, the main reason the film succeeds is due to its ambition. It appears to follow absolutely no rules, does not limit itself to one item, and does not seem to care about what is real and not real. It tries absolutely every narrative and effects technique that it can (except for, thankfully 3D). It is the one film that feels like a film; it is not content to just tell a story. So much of the narrative depends on how the story is told.
And that is why, below the surface, this is a great film. Because the rules it does follow are the ones that used to make films engaging to watch. I will tell you who this whole spectacle reminds me of, and that’s Jean Luc Godard. Had he been a video game nerd, this is the sort of film he would make.
The trailer pretty much explains the plot as simply as possible. In the magical, faraway land of Toronto,Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) who experienced a bad breakup with Envy Adams (Brie Larson) is looking for something more in his life. He is in a band called the Sex Bob-ombs (Ho Ho) and is dating a high school girl named Knives (Ellen Wong). While at a party, he meets Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and falls in love. However, in order to properly win her, he must defeat seven of her evil exes, including bass player Todd (Brandon Roth), action star Lucas Lee (Chris Evans), and record producer Gideon (Jason Schwartzman). Along the way, he seeks advice from his sister Stacey (Anna Kendrick), gay roommate Wallace (Kieran Culkin) and friend Aubrey (Julie Powers). He sees the quest as a video game, and finds that the situation may be more than he can handle.
I will tell you what the film reminds me of, and that’s A Woman is a Woman. If you have not seen it yet, go ahead and take care of that now. I will wait. Finished? Did you notice how all of the characters seek to inhabit a world that has only existed in popular media in order to mask their actually relatively normal lives? That’s Scott Pilgrim. Instead of musicals, this film is obsessed with video games and anime, with the fights being a sort of cross between the end of the second act of Akira and the average play through of Street Fighter. Scott even gets coins and points whenever he “defeats” an ex – and by that I mean that the exes vanish off the face of the earth into a giant burst of coins and cheap video game graphics. It’s actually quite frightening and does appear to be really happening – characters pick up the coins and complain that it is not enough for bus fare. It’s all seamlessly executed and incredibly well choreographed, but it does raise some disturbing implications. All I can think of is a man inhabiting this universe beating up his friend just so he has enough change to feed the meter or whatever.
Yet ultimately it is for the best. People in this situation always try their best to explain such instances in ways that will sound the most interesting to the viewers. We are not really sure what the evil exes are like or how their encounters with Scott Pilgrim went. Perhaps this is actually what happened. The film is effective in demonstrating how media has changed our perception of the world; no honest person can possibly say they have never imagined life as a video game (no one under the age of thirty anyway). Besides, it does work in telling the story in a new an interesting way. Without the gimmicks, the script would actually be the boy meets girl item that we have all seen before. But the thing is, none of what happens really feels like a gimmick. This may be due to the fact it keeps happening,, but mostly due to the fact that it is just the way that Scott Pilgrim himself would likely describe the story. It’s a narrative that manages to constantly keep people on their toes and is a joy to watch unfold; kind of like the films of Jean Luc Godard (and thus we arrive back at him).
At times, I felt that this was the best film of the year. It’s script is not strong enough for that; ultimately it resorts to a few clichés (on paper at least) and loses its pacing toward the end of the film. But it is still a wildly imaginative film that tries to establish new narrative conventions and at least attempts to show audiences something they have not seen before. Go and see this movie, I am actually seriously considering going to the theater to watch it again (this is something I very rarely do). If you are content to see what has already been done countless times and pretty much reached its zenith about thirty years ago. If that is the case, than The Expendables also opens this weekend.