Could Michael Cera be getting more vaporous with each repeat of his epicene screen persona? His Scott Pilgrim is so pale, so enervated, so solipsistic, I'd swear I could see right through him. Add in the faux hip, self-congratulatory, dork-pandering assault of the first half-hour or so of Edgar Wright's adaptation of the Bryan Lee O'Malley comic-book series — not to mention the non-stop Pavlovian laugh track provided by the audience at the screening I attended — and you have a candidate for most irritating performance of the year.
|Scott Pilgrim vs. the World | Directed by Edgar Wright | Written by Michael Bacall and Edgar Wright based on the comic-book series by Bryan Lee O’Malley | with Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Kieran Culkin, Chris Evans, Anna Kendrick, Alison Pill, Brandon Routh, Brie Larson, and Jason Schwartzman | Universal Pictures | 108 minutes|
Fortunately, the "vs. the World" part — the series of unabashedly absurd mano-a-manos between Scott and the exes of his new love, Ramona (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) — kicks in not a moment too soon. Another plus is the music composed by Beck and Nigel Godrich to be performed by Scott's band, Sex Bob-Omb. (The allusion to Super Mario Bros. is just the start of the suffocating homage to retro video games.) Indeed, anything that stifles the Juno-esque dialogue, the cutesy spelled-out sound effects à la the old Batman TV show, the music cue from Seinfeld, and all the other pop detritus is welcome. Whatever gives Wright a fighting chance to engage in a more kinetic and comedic mode, one worthy of the director of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz.
Meanwhile, we still have to slog through Scott's world — his social life and his smug inconsequentiality and his unfathomable appeal to women. Or at least, high-school girls. Somehow, he's beguiled 17-year-old Knives Chau (Ellen Wong, gamely resisting smarmy stereotypes). That's elicited the disapproval of his snooty sister Stacey (Anna Kendrick), his annoyingly gay roommate Wallace (creepy Kieran Culkin), and his bandmate and former girlfriend Kim (Alison Pill). But Knives is just filling the space left by Envy (Brie Larson) — not the deadly sin but Scott's former girlfriend, who dumped him en route to becoming a superstar. That is, until Ramona becomes his dream girl — she uses his subconscious, Inception
style, as a handy shortcut on her rollerblading route.
Once this dream threshold has been crossed, Wright can unleash his imagination. A rarefied logic prevails — oneiric, or maybe just the rote mechanics of a Nintendo game — so there's no need to explain why Ramona's Evil Ex #1 zooms out of nowhere to wallop Scott and the suddenly superpowered geek meets the challenge. And so on with the remaining six, the successive bouts involving battling guitar solos, multiplying stunt doubles, and a teleporting Nightcrawler-ish lethal lesbian, as well as the standard Matrix-like stunts and martial-arts acrobatics.
So maybe Wright, as in his previous films, isn't so much indulging in fetishistic, insipid schlock as he is satirizing that sensibility. Maybe he's even touching on deeper issues, like the nature of wish-fulfillment fantasy and the inescapable burden of the past. But I doubt whether any such subtext will touch more than a handful of the millions who'll enjoy this movie. And as for me, nothing can justify another nerdy performance from Michael Cera.