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Director Edgar Wright has abandoned his winning English posse, Michael Cera is Michael Cera, and watching someone else play a video game is usually pretty dull. So logic dictates that Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Wright’s adaptation of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s graphic novels, should be a Year One-scale disaster. For the Cera haters out there, this film certainly won’t change your mind. But who else can resist a story that self-checks its hipsterism with one total tool of a character who says things like, “Being vegan just makes you better?”
Cera plays Scott Pilgrim, a 23-year-old Toronto bassist in an allegedly awful rock band who falls for Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a punky New York City transplant he’s literally dreamed of. When Scott finds out she works as a delivery girl for Amazon, he orders “something really cool” and then sits by the door waiting for his package to arrive. Soon Ramona rings his bell and Scott launches into Ceranian stream-of-consciousness: “Hi, I was thinking about asking you out but then I realized how stupid that would be. So, do you want to go out sometime?”
Ramona agrees, if only so he’ll shut up and sign for the package. But then she kinda likes him, which is nice for her and a nightmare for him. In order to date Ramona, Scott must battle her “seven evil exes,” all of whom are champion fighters, a bit mystical, and complete jackasses. They also show up unannounced (except for the first, who does send an e-mail), which quickly dampens Scott’s crush, and the involuntary confidence it inspires, with sheer panic.
Wright collaborators Simon Pegg and Nick Frost may not make appearances, but Scott Pilgrim vs. the World bears the video game–obsessed director’s stamp. Like the comic, much of the film is styled like a game, from dramatic, echo-y voiceovers calling out “combos” to points in the corner of the screen to an explosion of coins once Scott obliterates one of his opponents. There are Batman-like “KPOWs!” and depleting/replenishing energy bars. (Or, in one of the everyday scenes, a “pee” bar.) Wright’s go-to move, prevalent in Spaced, Shaun of the Dead, and Hot Fuzz, is frequently employed here, too—a quick pan or zoom of the camera, accompanied by a terse “whoosh.”
The story may be centered on the travails, otherworldly or not, of young love, but this is less rom than com, thanks to Cera’s genial neurotic and a script (co-written by Wright and Michael Bacall) that spreads its humor equitably. Scott’s gay, sardonic roommate, Wallace (Kieran Culkin), and the ridiculous exes (particularly the aforementioned vegan and an egotistical, affected action star played by Chris Evans) are highlights, while the ladies (including Anna Kendrick as Scott’s sister) get to be sarcastic and cool. And little dry touches lend the characters support, from a gag about Scott’s overgrown hair to chapter titles like “So Yeah” (announcing Scott and Ramona’s first date and taken from his earlier query, “So, yeah, 8 o’clock?”) to visual side bars, often with the graphic novel’s original drawings, that point out when, say, someone’s not telling the truth.
It doesn’t hurt that Scott’s band, Sex Bob-omb, rocks. (And includes band member Stephen Stills and alternate bassist, Young Neil.) Beck wrote the songs, little gems of garage rock that will haunt your brain well after the credits roll. Cera plays his own instrument, too, which is particularly thrilling during a “bass-off” with one of Ramona’s exes. Even if the fights get a little wearisome toward the very end, it all adds up to a tremendous amount of fun. During one temporary moment of confusion, a meter with the readings “No Clue—Gets It” at either end appears above Scott’s head. Edgar Wright and Co. totally get it.