Admit it. We’ve all gone easy on movies we have no business liking in the first place. Comic book adaptations immediately spring to mind. More often than not, I wind up having to reconcile the professional reviewer side of me with my more forgiving inner fanboy, and this results in enjoyably trashy fare like Catwoman and Daredevil getting a pass from me. (Let’s keep that last part between us, shall we?)
But when a film as special as Scott Pilgrim vs. the World comes along, there’s no need to start an argument between my moviegoing selves. This cheeky, playfully inventive hodgepodge of Gen-Y romance and super-powered shenanigans is the real deal, the kind of inspired pop culture artifact that’s bound to yield countless imitators. It’s lodged itself in my mind and refuses to leave.
In bringing Bryan Lee O’Malley’s manga-inspired graphic novels to cinematic life, director/co-screenwriter Edgar Wright has succeeded in transposing the language of comics from page to screen. Other films have attempted to pull off the same feat before, most notably Ang Lee’s flawed but intriguingly oddball The Hulk, but whereas other filmmakers limit themselves to impose comic book panel imagery so it becomes visible to the viewer, Wright goes one step further. Sure, he occasionally changes aspect ratios and divides the screen into panels, but for the most part, the English filmmaker views the entire screen as the panel, and then edits the film in a way that adopts the ebb and flow of sequential art.
The story is simplicity itself. The title character, played by Michael Cera, is a struggling 22-year-old Toronto-bred bass guitarist for grungy local band Sex Bob-Omb who is dating clingy Chinese high schooler Knives Chau while insisting he’s gotten over his ex…even though the traumatic breakup has prevented him from getting a professional haircut ever since it happened (thus the shaggy ‘do). His gossipy sister (Up in the Air’s Anna Kendrick), sassy gay roommate (Kieran Culkin, deftly sidestepping stereotype), and bandmates put up with the whining, but when Scott sees recent U.S. transplant Ramona Flowers (Death Proof’s Mary Elizabeth Winstead) at a party, the world stops. The ensuing courtship echoes Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind in its lived-in dynamics, only here magenta-colored hearts flutter out of the lovers’ lips when they kiss. And then, Ramona’s baggage rears its unwelcome head…in the form of her “seven evil exes”…whom Scott must fight in order to win her heart. Sound absurd? The film’s trippy logic, combined with the actors’ crack comic timing, makes it a hoot and half to just go with it.
It’s at this point that Wright, who made the funniest zombie movie ever (Shaun of the Dead) and gleefully dissected the action genre (Hot Fuzz), adds another layer to the film’s visual vocabulary: He appropriates the hyperkinetic lexicon of video games, which gives the film’s fight sequences the addictive thrill of a hopped-up Street Fighter or Tekken match. (When Scott fights Evil Ex #3, a vapid vegan played by Brandon Routh, he literally punches the highlights out of the ex’s hair.) It would be all for naught if Wright didn’t ground the pyrotechnics in recognizable human behavior, and that’s the key to the film’s success. Cera, American cinema’s reigning prince of lovestruck befuddlement, is not afraid to portray his character in an unflattering light or, as his roommate puts it, “a total lady killer wannabe jerky jerk.” He turns Scott Pilgrim vs. the World into a feast for the senses with a lovely ache in the middle. The high-wire act Wright and his creative team sustain for nearly two hours deserves the highest of compliments: They make movies feel new again.
Which is not to say there isn’t a place for defiantly old-school middlebrow entertainment in this weekend’s crowded movie lineup. In the Prohibition era charmer Get Low, Robert Duvall plays Felix Bush, a cantankerous hermit whose infamy extends across four Tennessee counties and at least three generations. He’s made up his mind that it’s time to go, so he visits funeral director Frank Quinn (Bill Murray) and his assistant (Sling Blade’s Lucas Black) to arrange a “funeral party”…while he’s still alive. “He was like this big old cave that went deeper and deeper,” says Mattie Darrow (Sissy Spacek), the widow who used to date Bush before he dropped out of sight.
Bush is haunted by an Unspeakable Act he committed forty years before, the one that made him go into self-imposed exile, and it’s too bad so much of the film revolves around the mystery surrounding that incident (seen briefly in flashback), because when the big secret is revealed, it’s pretty much what you’d expect. There are, nevertheless, plenty of low-key pleasures to be had when director Aaron Schneider, who won a 2004 Oscar for his live-action short Two Soldiers, simply lets the old pros go at each other. Murray, in particular, hams it up as a 1930s variation of the ambulance-chasing lawyer he played in Wild Things. I kept wishing Schneider would embrace his protagonist’s curmudgeonly spirit, but Get Low is tasteful to a fault, too slick by half, and pretty easy to digest.
If you can only see one movie this weekend, I say Metropolis. I would have liked to see the look on Buenos Aires film curator Fernando Peña’s face when, after decades of searching, he discovered a 16mm dupe negative of Fritz Lang’s masterpiece that included 25 minutes of footage that had not been seen publicly since the film’s 1927 Berlin debut. Up until the time I saw this version earlier this spring at the Miami Beach Cinematheque, dubbed The Complete Metropolis for this special reissue, I had only seen bits and pieces of this influential tale of a dystopian society, an idealistic leader, a mad scientist, and a devious female android. I am very glad I waited this long to take in the full measure of Lang’s arresting vision, one in which science fiction is only one of many elements it encompasses. It’s a richly satisfying experience.
The Complete Metropolis screens this weekend only at the Bill Cosford Cinema; for more information go to cosfordcinema.com. Get Low is now showing at Regal South Beach Cinemas and at AMC Aventura 24; for more information go to fandango.com. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is currently in wide release. I can’t wait to see it again.