18 August 2010

Edgar Wright Gets It Together

Edgar Wright’s Scott Pilgrim vs. the World offers delightful cinematic storytelling. I don’t think I’ve enjoyed simply watching a film unspool as much since, well, Edgar Wright’s last movie, Hot Fuzz.

As critic Douglas Wolk noted in this roundtable, the movie resembles Run, Lola, Run in its kinetic energy and willingness to bend the visual medium to tell its story. A very different story, of course—no bank robberies, but several examples of alternate ways things could happen.

Scott Pilgrim’s visual aesthetic combines elements of:

  • videogames, with onscreen status updates.
  • comics, with sound effects, labels, and captions “showing the invisible,” as well as lots of split screens to evoke panels.
  • slapstick comedy, both silent and screwball types.
Michael Cera may play up Scott Pilgrim’s nebbishy cluelessness rather than his straight cluelessness, but he got so much right about the character’s blithe egotism—not Cera’s usual character by any means. The movie also makes clear, probably even clearer than in the books, that Scott’s friends are on to him. They know he’s barely holding onto loveable loser status, especially since he sees himself as more loveable and less of a loser than he really is.

As for the supporting cast, in reading reviews, I was struck by how different critics singled out different performances (once they got past praising Kieran Culkin’s Wallace). Each believed a distinct set of actors stole their scenes. There was a big divide about female lead Elizabeth Winstead; one review found her portrayal empty while another said she had exactly the mysterious allure that the role called for. I thought she was just fine, though the character wasn’t as full as in the books.

I particularly liked Brandon Routh, just as I liked him on Chuck last year. As with George Reeves, Christopher Reeve, and Dean Cain, Routh’s career was changed forever when he was cast as Superman. But unlike those other actors, his movie wasn’t a hit, saddling him with both typecasting and taint. Perhaps as a result, Routh keeps getting roles as too-handsome, too-capable guys that you want to hate. And he keeps knocking his line readings into the next solar system.

All that said, I thought this Scott Pilgrim movie ended up undercutting its own themes because of the moviemakers’ storytelling choices. Much more about that tomorrow.

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