Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (review)

Twilight for Boys

It’s Twilight for boys. It’s male adolescent sexual angst as “an epic of epic epicness,” as the poster tagline informs us… and as the movie matches in attitude and action. It’s the indulgence of everything a not-quite-adult, no-longer-a-kid manchild could want from women, in a package designed to appeal to not-quite-adult, no-longer-a-kid manchildren who would happily see their lives in the metaphors of the comic books, sitcoms, and videogames they were weaned on.
And that’s fine, really. If Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is a touchstone of Millennial pop culture, as many of the fans of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s graphic novels [Amazon U.S.] [Amazon Canada] [Amazon U.K.] insist it is, there’s nothing wrong with that… and not with the clever pastiches of superhero stories and Nintendo low-res gameplay that director Edgar Wright deploys to tell the story of 21-year-old Torontonian Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera: Youth in Revolt, Year One) getting a life. (Which is represented, ingeniously, by him grabbing a 1UP graphic from the top of the screen.) Wright is a master stylist, as he demonstrated in his brilliant previous films, the zombie sendup Shaun of the Dead and the buddy-cop parody Hot Fuzz. Here, though, he’s using that style to tell a tale that is deeply off-putting for what it says about young men’s attitudes toward young women, and toward romantic relationships. In this respect, it seems, there’s nothing new about this new generation.

Of course young love can feel like an epic of epic epicness even if you don’t live inside a videogame. (And here’s a secret those still young may discover as they get old: love can feel epic in grayer years, too.) But the terribleness and the wonderfulness of falling in love is depicted here as an heroic battle against the gal a guy is supposedly in love with. Scott falls in love with roller-skating, punk-haired Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead: Live Free or Die Hard, Death Proof) at first sight, across a public space. He stalks her in a way that’s meant to be adorable, I suppose, if one that makes little sense; since when does Amazon dispatch its own employee messengers like Ramona to deliver stuff you order online? She is literally a dream girl — Scott dreamt her before he met her — so much a dream girl that she agrees to go out with him with no indication of what she sees in him, just so he’ll stop asking, and consequently falls for him… but that’s what dream girls do.

So far, it’s pretty much par for the idiotic course for idiotic romantic comedies: we hardly know nor like either of the would-be couple, but we’re stuck with them for at least another hour. But here’s the appalling twist: In order for Scott to continue dating Ramona, he has to fight — literally battle, videogame style — her “seven evil exes.” Ramona makes a comment about how we all have “baggage,” which is of course true. But these exes are not “baggage”: the first one is a boy she hung out with and kissed once in eighth grade. The others are mostly similarly benign past relationships that barely even rise to the level of “relationship.” (Of course, Scott’s idea of a “dating” is hanging out with a 17-year-old high-schooler [Ellen Wong] and grabbing a slice of pizza after school. Kissing is not even on the agenda.) What’s worse, the entire “battle of the exes” thing has been arranged by Ramona’s most recent boyfriend (Jason Schwartzmann: Fantastic Mr. Fox, Funny People), who really does seem evil. But why on Earth would the other exes go along with such a scheme unless they feel some kind of ownership of Ramona?

And why does Ramona go along with it? Is she not her own self to give or not as she pleases? She is a total cipher, a pretty blank slate upon which Scott can pour his desires but can only win hers not by anything he does for or to her, but by winning her from her exes. She isn’t free to bestow her affections: her affections belong to men and must be passed from one to another. Why isn’t she furious at her latest ex for concocting such a scheme? It’s bad enough that all the guys seem to have no compunction considering her a thing, a possession to be claimed. But why does she give in to that?

If Scott Pilgrim truly wanted to be about two young people navigating the hurts of their past to come together for a fresh start, then why doesn’t Ramona have to fight Scott’s exes… the latest of which seems pretty evil, too, at least on the curve this movie grades evil on? Why must her romantic past, meager as it is, be laid bare for his approval and vanquishing, yet he is not required to do the same for her? Worst of all, why does everyone involved take the whole thing so casually, as if this is to be expected from a man when embarking upon a new relationship?

I know, I know: It’s all supposed to be “funny” and “cute” and “lighthearted.” But for as long as “women as trophies, as prizes for men who do heroic deeds” has been an unfortunate trope of Hollywood, a movie has never been this blatant, this outrageous, this nonchalant about it. And while there’s lots that is indeed funny and cute and lighthearted — the always delightful Chris Evans’ (The Losers, Push) action movie star, one of Ramona’s exes, is a definite highlight — there is no sense of satire in the unmetaphoric winning of Ramona. All the style is nothing but a would-be “sweet” metaphor for men treating women as property… and woman acquiescing to being treated that way.

Watch Scott Pilgrim vs. the World online using LOVEFiLM‘s streaming service.

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