The Girl of His Dreams
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: 2010 Film Rewatch
It's been 13 years since the movie adaptation of Scott Pilgrim came out. Named after the second book in the series, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, the movie, well, died at the Box Office, making on $49.3 Mil against a production budget upwards of $85 Mil. That's a total crash and burn, with audiences straight up ignoring the film altogether, which is a real tragedy since the film is, in fact, great. Too great, in fact, to have died the death it did in theaters.<
We've sung the praises of the film before, with our 2018 review of the movie. We've mentioned it when discussing other films, put it on our best of lists (both 2014 and 2018 editions), and generally just think it's an awesome movie. And, thankfully, many other agree, helping to push the film, over the last 2013 years, from a flop to a secret success, to genuine cult hit. Universal, the studio that made the film, has done re-releases for the movie, both on home video and even in theaters, and the audience has come around. It's great to see the movie find itself considering how much love director Edgar Wright put into the adaptation.
Going back and watching the film again (which I've done a number of times over the years), you can easily appreciate how much work and creativity went into the production. It's a film that absolutely grabs your attention from moment one, sucking you in with its frenetic pace and quick cuts. As we learn that "Scott Pilgrim was dating a high schooler", getting the vibe that no one likes this guy who hasn't found a way to grow up yet (largely due to a bad breakup that left him stunted for years), but still... there's hope. And there's energy, as the film quickly takes us to a practice of Scott's band, Sex Bob-Omb, and the bright colors and loud music of their performance takes over. That's the films mission statement. It's thesis. "This film is going to be different from anything you've seen." And it is.
Every time I discuss this movie I liken it to Fight Club, not because the two films are terribly similar... although they do both involve fighting. And stunted man-children trying to find their place in the world. And there's even a dark version of the main "hero" that he has to battle. Huh. But no, I think of Fight Club because (as a review I read years ago aptly pointed out) that was a movie that wasn't so much watched as downloaded into you. It moves at a breakneck pace, it's constantly shifting and making up its own rules, and it plays around with the very conceit of movies to give you an experience that isn't much like any film you've seen before.
In fairness, this kind of strange, new movie experience doesn't seem to sit well with audiences. Fight Club wasn't a flop, per se, but with a production budget of $65 Mil, the $101/2 Mil it made in theaters didn't really let it break even, either. You get the vibe from that film, and from Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, that audiences weren't ready for this kind of pacing, the artistic flourishes, the utter weirdness. The struggled to show up for Fight Club, although that movie eventually found its audience and was a better success on home video. You know, just like with Scott Pilgrim.
Not that Scott isn't without its flaws. As we've pointed out in previous articles about the franchise, the movie has to shorten the narrative of the book (cutting down six graphic novels worth of content into a 112 minute movie, and that does have consequences on character development for the film. Scott (Michael Cera) and Ramona (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) have fantastic chemistry together as they find each other and quickly fall in love, but the why and how of how it all works out feels rushed. Ramona is the cool girl new in town so why would she date Scott in the first place. And when things get rough and she decides to head for the hills (as always happens in the formula of a romantic comedy) why would they get back together? The movie just assumes you're on board for the two of them, even though they have a lot of growing up still to do for themselves. And yes, we are... but it feel at times like key moments are missing.
When I hear people's complaints about the movie its generally because of the plot issues. Scott is a man-baby, but Ramona doesn't really show herself to be much better, letting a guy fight her exes for her (as is the conceit of the movie) when, realistically, she should really learn to heal her own past and face her exes herself (as, you know, she does in the excellent TV series). Comic fans argue that these matters were better addressed in the comic series, but each work does need to be able to stand on its own and, in that regard, the film maybe could have used a little work.
Although, really, when we're talking about hundreds and hundreds of pages of content condensed into a single movie, I think the film does the best it can. Again, the chemistry between Scott and Ramona is there and that goes a long way towards getting the audience on board with their relationship. And frankly, in the moment, it's not generally as big a concern because the film is bright, and shiny, and funny, and it has a ton of heart. It's like a big, energetic puppy dog, just giving you everything it can, and it's lovable for it.
And, really, having now watched the TV series, with (largely) the same actors playing this cast of characters again, my minor qualms over the relationship matters in this film have dissipated. Frankly, I think of the TV series as a sequel, redoing the movie from a time travel, reboot perspective, giving all the characters that needed more time in the movie their appropriate due. Ramona gets the spotlight, she gets to confront all her exes, and growth for the characters happens. Meanwhile, Scott (being sucked to the future) still gets to view the events of the original timeline (via a jury-rigged Virtual Boy, which I love so hard) so he gets to learn from his own past and gain those lessons. When he and Ramona reunite they can continue from both their end points and have a healthier relationship together.
At least, that's what I hope. And in that regard that makes this film like a pilot episode for the series, and whatever other works, are to come. I think that works, and it makes everything better. Naturally that would have been a hard sell for the film when it was first released -- "Watch this movie and then wait 13 years for the anime continuation" -- but then, frankly, I don't know that this movie ever could have done well in theaters. The Scott Pilgrim name was growing, but it wasn't huge enough to carry a film on its own at the time. And the film is weird, and strange, and not like what people might expect from a romantic comedy. "Why is it so loud and frenetic? Why does everyone turn into Canadian coins when they die?" As a fan of classic games I get it, but not so many in the audience would.
Maybe there was a sense that the film was being smug, referencing things most wouldn't know out of a sense of superiority. Certainly I hard people complain about Michael Cera being in it, playing the same kind of feckless guy he'd been playing for years, giving the movie an air of "whatever," slacker, trying too hard energy. It was hipster, but in a way most people maybe weren't going to get. It was funny but you had to sort of be in on the joke, at least a little. It was a movie made for a specific audience and only that audience showed up.
But then everyone else figured it out and the cult of the film grew. It got the fans, it got redemption, and then it got the sequel it needed. That makes the movie a weird success over a decade after it failed. But hey, it got the in and, in the end, maybe that's what really matters.