You know what genre Hollywood could stand to have a little more of? The Action/Comedy/Musical hybrid genre. To my knowledge, I can only think of two. The first is 1980’s The Blues Brothers, which featured criminals who played blues getting into spectacular car chases and car wrecks. The other is Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World tells the story of a young man trying to win a girl’s affections by defeating seven of her exes in a fight. On paper, that probably sounds pretty melodramatic. But given Edgar Wright’s hilarious directorial style, an amazing cast, and clever jokes, it’s one of the funniest comedies of the past decade. (That being said, it does mostly appeal to a certain age range.)
This film boasts a wonderful ensemble cast. It’s lead by delightfully awkward Michael Cera and Mary Elizabeth Winstead. Jason Schwartzman, Ellen Wong, Kieran Culkin, Brandon Routh… all of whom absolutely rock it. And the cast features so many other great actors before they rose to stardom; Chris Evans (who surprisingly plays a villain here) before Captain America, Aubrey Plaza and Anna Kendrick before they freqented comedy blockbusters, and Brie Larson before her Oscar win. Everyone’s on point.
One thing that people – and Honest Trailers – note about the cast is that they all play pretty unlikeable people (except for Ellen Wong’s Knives). In fact, I was going to go through performances I really liked, for example Chris Evans or Jason Schwartzman or Brandon Routh, but all I can say is that they all play cocky assholes really well.
So many great artists help provide the soundtrack for this movie. Songs written by Beck, Metric, and various others were performed by the bands in the film. It’s gritty garage rock which really depicts Scott’s band Sex Bob-Omb as a struggling punk rock outfit.
And some of the songs are used for laughs. The Battle of the Bands scene features the band Crash and the Boys who play the song “I am so sad, so very, very, sad.” They play two dissonant chords and sing the words: “So sad.” That’s it. That’s the song.
And in just about every major fight scene, the music is there to add atmosphere and ramp up the excitement. Great examples of this come towards the middle of the film when Scott challenges Todd the Vegan to a bass battle, or near the end when music by Sex Bob-Omb punctuates Scott’s fight with Gideon’s goons.
One awesome detail about this film is that the actors who make up Sex Bob-Omb is that they all learned how to play instruments for this film. I really appreciate this because it shows a way that actors can get into character that most movies would probably skip, but also a way to get into character that isn’t as creepy or unnerving as anything Jared Leto did for Suicide Squad.
If there’s only one song on the soundtrack that I can recommend, it’s this one:
Using Visuals to Create a Style
This movie is all about its visual style. More jokes come from the kind of images that appear on the screen, rather than just from jokes the characters are making. This is visual comedy, going above and beyond, using the movie medium to its fullest extent.
I love everything about the style. Onomatopeas frequently appear on screen, but this scene goes one further by beeping out the words spoken by Aubrey Plaza’s character, and Scott actually acknowledging the bar that censors her profanity. But the really wonderful part of this scene is the appearance of Scott’s ex, Envy.
The film has already established the image of the Clash at Demonhead’s album cover, which features Envy in a power stance. And then, the album cover is in the background of this scene, only to have Envy standing in the exact same pose. It’s jarring because it interrupts the conversation that Scott and Ramona are having. The conversation carries romantic tension, and this jarring interruption is played for laughs as Scott shouts “Shit!” upon seeing Envy. This scene also establishes a hilarious visual motif in which a character will tell Scott “your hair’s getting shaggy,” causing a hat to immediately cover his hair.
Every Frame a Painting made a video about Edgar Wright’s visual style, noting his ability to make things exit the frame in a funny manner. I definitely think that’s at play here. I don’t have much to say about this other than its one of the various visual gags that makes this film so hilarious – it’s what makes it what it is.
The Alternate Ending/The Time Test Audiences Worked
Focus groups can often ruin movies. Basically, it comes down to the studios trying to see what audiences think of a movie before they release it. If they get people to tell them what they like about the movie beforehand, then everyone will like the movie when it releases, right? Infamously, test audiences resulted in unnecessary changes to Blade Runner, such as a happy ending and a voiceover at the beginning, changes which, according to many, dilute the film.
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World was influenced by focus groups; the final scene was changed. Whereas in the theatrical ending, Scott and Ramona end up together, Scott ends up with Knives in the alternate ending.
Ah geez. What to say about this? Never have I personally been so conflicted about the way a character ends up with a romantic partner.
Logically, it does make sense for Ramona to move on with her life now that she has moved past all the emotional baggage she had with all her exes, allowing Scott to be with Knives, who, in that cut of the film, was always there for him. Alternatively, with all the emotional baggage she’s just released, Ramona is finally free to actually be herself around Scott. Not to mention, Knives is still in high school, making her relationship with twenty-something Scott weird to say the least. Should Scott end up with Knives? Should Scott end up with Ramona? I don’t really know.
It is hard to pick a favorite scene. In terms of the big set pieces/Evil-Ex fights, the whole sequence of Scott fighting his way through Gideon’s Chaos Theater and ultimately fighting Gideon. It shows how not only does Edgar Wright direct great visual comedy, but also he directs great action and fight choreography.
But as I’ve said, this movie’s all about the small moments, and how those can be funny, rather than having a single, hilarious scene. Of these small moments full of great visual gags, my favorite might be this scene of Scott checking his email, finding a challenge from the League of Evil Exes:
All right, this one is actually a little hard. Everyone in this movie is spot-on, but – and perhaps this makes no sense – the performances aren’t anything more than they need to be. They’re good, and they definitely work in the context of the film, but there’s nothing much there; by and large, they lack depth. Michael Cera plays the eager suitor, and he plays it well. Anna Kendrick plays the prying sister, and she plays it well. Brie Larson plays the cold-hearted ex, and she plays it well. Chris Evans, Jason Schwartzman, and Brandon Routh play jerks, but they play them well. With the exception of Michael Cera’s Scott, these are all pretty much one-dimensional characters.
But the one performance which really stands out is Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Ramona. She’s powerful, sassy, and a delight to watch. She makes the journey from being totally uninterested to a rather sympathetic character. One could argue that this movie isn’t about Scott trying to get the girl so much as it is about Ramona trying to move past all her bad relationships.
Favorite Quote: This has to go to the greatest pickup line of all time: “Hey you know Pacman? Well, Pacman was originally called puck man, they changed it because uh not because Pacman looks like a hockey puck but “paku paku” means “flap your mouth,” and they were worried that people would scratch out the P and turn it into an F, like… huh. Um, Am I dreaming? I’ll leave you alone forever now.”
Academy Awards/Nominations: Heh, no. No way.
Fun Fact: Each one of the Seven Evil Exes has a number associated with them which appears in some subtle way. When Matthew Patel introduces himself or points at Scott, he constently extends his pointer finger, as if to signal the number 1. Alternatively, when Lucas Lee points with two fingers, and has the number two on his trailer. Todd the Vegan has the number 3 on his shirt, and the logo for Gideon’s club features three number 7s all turned on their sides. Scott, alternatively, appears with the word “Zero” on his shirt, and is drinking a Coke Zero. That being said, I could not find any number-related Easter Eggs for Roxy (Evil Ex #4) or the Katayanagi Twins (Evil Exes #5 and 6), so if anyone notices them, please let me know.
If you like this, also check out: The other works of Edgar Wright, such as Hot Fuzz or Shaun of the Dead. Or, the series of graphic novels by Brian Lee O’Malley that inspired the film.
This movie is great. Is it for everyone? Probably not. You’ll likely enjoy it more if you like comic books or video games, but I think that it is nonetheless worth checking out. It uses great actors and great visuals to tell a story about love and maturity. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World entertains viewers and presents a compelling romance amid a sea of laughter.