Friday, August 13, 2010

Scott Pilgrim gets a life (like some movie reviewers should).

You know, I thought it was bad when graphic novels (aka comic books, to those who still don't think you can tell a good "grown-up" story in pictures) had to struggle with getting respect from the "critics". I mean, "Watchmen" came out in the mid-80s, and it made Time Magazine's list of the one hundred greatest novels ever. If you need more proof that the genre is perfectly capable of producing good literature, then you've probably never actually read any comic more sophisticated than "Garfield".

That brings us to the Scott Pilgrim series. The first volume was released six years ago, and the last (volume six) just came out last month. Yes, the movie finished shooting before the series had issued its final chapter. They accomplished this by having Bryan Lee O'Malley, the series creator, working closely with the director, Edgar Wright ("Shaun of the Dead", "Hot Fuzz"), on the whole project; which is something every director should do when adapting someone else's work (again, reference "Watchmen"). Though the comic series and the movie both feature plenty of eye (and ear) candy for the video game/comic book/battling rock bands crowd, its base appeal is something far more profound than I think most movie reviewers even noticed.

I thank Linda Holmes of NPR for compiling a list of pretentious reviewers who not only miss the point entirely, but do a pretty good job of underestimating (and insulting) the fans in the process. One actually complained that the movie made the audience laugh too much. *rolls eyes* (You can read the list here.)

Anyway, what those reviewers all seem to miss is something that I missed when watching a highly-editted version of "The Breakfast Club" as a kid: that the movie is about the characters themselves. Where they are and what they're doing is (almost) incidental. First, of course, there's Scott Pilgrim, a dorky, depressed, delusional bass player in a band. When the movie begins, we learn that Scott, age 22, is dating a high schooler, Knives, age 17 ("and she's Chinese"). Scott's not trying to take advantage of her or anything ("We haven't even held hands"); he just likes hanging out with her, playing arcade games, and letting her listen while his band practices. It's a pretty nice arrangement (except for the fact that Knives is falling in love with Scott).

One day, Scott meets the girl of his dreams (literally). Her name's Ramona Flowers ("She's got battle scars"). Miracle of miracles, she seems to like him, too. Unfortunately, before they can live happily ever after, Scott needs to defeat Ramona's seven evil exes. It won't be easy; especially since Superman (Brandon Routh) and the Human Torch (Chris Evans) are playing two of her exes. Also, how will Knives react to Scott's leaving her? (Spoiler alert: not well.) Scott's band, of course, tries to be supportive, but they have their own lives (and the future of the band itself, of course) to consider. And then there's Scott's gay roommate Wallace Wells (played by the scene-stealing Kieran Culkin) who offers Scott sometimes-sage advice in between his own ... pursuits.

Okay, so it's not exactly "The Breakfast Club" with video game effects (although the fact that everyone Scott beats turns into coins is pretty awesome by itself). But neither is it "Mortal Kombat" with more laughs. The difficulty in adapting the graphic novel series is the same with adapting anything: knowing what to cut, what to add, and what to change. There are some backstory elements to both Scott's and Ramona's lives that can't be included because of time constraints, and others that seem out of place because, well, they are. At just under two hours, there's neither time nor room for the movie to take the sometimes leisurely pace the graphic novels take, and so the storylines dealing with the characters and their personal conflicts can feel a little rushed or canned at times.

That doesn't make it any less enjoyable, though; or any less insightful. The video game elements are a perfect metaphor for Scott's struggle; and it's a familiar struggle, one for both love and self-respect. Even Ramona has to decide how she wants her life to unfold, and whether, after accumulating seven "evil" exes, she's even capable of having a good relationship. It's a parable; maybe not the kind of which Shakespeare or Chaucer wrote, but it's still profound. I'd encourage anyone to both watch the movie and read the books (not necessarily in that order).

(Read the original review here.)

1 comment:

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