Aug. 13th, 2010

(no spoilers you wouldn't get from the TV ads, except below cuts)

I first read Volume 1 of Scott Pilgrim about six years ago, when I asked the proprietor of my local San Diego comic shop, Comickaze (not to be confused with Somerville's own Comicazi. Eerie, I know) to "give me something awesome". That he did (I picked up the first TP of Runaways at the same time!). While understandable, one of my regrets about the advertising of the movie is that it gives away the whole "seven evil exes" thing right off the bat, because I'll always remember my first time reading SP, enjoying the awkward teen dramedy (one of my not-so-secret favorite comics genres) when suddenly "What? Fighting? This is a hip, geeky, romantic, rock-and-roll kung fu comic now? Is this awesome or terrible, and either way where has it been all my life??"

When I heard they were making a movie, I had my usual reaction of dread coupled with a kernel of hopeful optimism. Then I heard that Edgar Wright was directing, and that kernel grew. Then I saw how excited and involved the author of the comics, Brian Lee O'Malley (aka [ profile] destroyerzooey), was and it grew some more. Then I saw the trailers, and... well, you get the idea.

Finally saw the midnight opening last night, and the short version is: zomg go see this movie.

I have some quibbles, into which I'll get later, but overall the movie is an adaptation very obviously made by someone who gets the comics, gets the culture, and cares about doing it right. For this, I am immensely grateful to Mr. Wright. On top of all that, Wright has managed to create a style that is both original and yet clearly familiar to anyone who has read the comics, and which brilliantly blends old school and contemporary hip for something that is both fresh and familiar. I think a big part of this is the extent to which both O'Malley and Wright acknowledge that things stereotypically associated with "nerd" culture, from video games to social awkwardness, are and have been a bigger part of the mainstream than they're given credit for.

I won't bother cutting it except for specific spoilers, but what follows deals with opinions on casting, the comics->movie translation, etc. If those count as spoilers to you or just don't interest you, move along.

I was pleasantly surprised by Michael Cera as Scott, albeit in a different way than I'd hoped. See, from what I can tell Cera has one character. It's a fun, endearing character, but it's still one character (admittedly I am basing this opinion on Arrested Development, Superbad, and the trailers for his other movies), and that character just isn't who I envisioned Scott Pilgrim as. Similar, yes, but with a different flavor of doofiness, if you will. My hope had been that Cera would capture something closer to my mental image of the character from the comics. Instead, his portrayal still felt like Standard Michael Cera Character to me... and yet he totally made it work. Maybe he put more nuance into it than I'm giving him credit for, or maybe Standard Michael Cera Character just works for Pilgrim better than I'd realized. Either way, throughout the movie I never had a problem buying him as the character, and I'd even go so far to say that his portrayal is the definitive one in my head now, though we'll see if that lasts through the next time I re-read the comics.

I really have to give props for the casting of the supporting characters in particular, though. In a lot of ways the supporting cast makes this movie, IMO. Kieran Culkin's Wallace is absolutely spot on (though arguably whitewashed-- the character always looked asian to me). This was a high bar to live up to, as he's one of my favorite characters from the books, but Culkin is perfect in this role, and only made me like him more. There are even characters who came off as more appealing to me in the movie than they were in the books. For example, while I never had anything against Kim in the books, Alison Pill's performance has bumped her up to being one of my favorite characters from the movie. If I'm to be perfectly honest, there's a purely aesthetic element to this, as I've been crushing on Cute, Befreckled Sullen Drummer Girl since the trailers, but it's not just that. As one of my housemates observed, Kim's deadpan actually works better on film than on the page, and Pill pulls off that deadpan perfectly, with just the right mix of orneriness and barely-subdued energy; same goes for Anna Kendrick's Stacey, and then there is Ellen Wong's Knives. Knives Chau also fell into the "good but not a favorite" category for me in the books, but Wong holds the audience in the palm of her hand for the entire movie, eliciting as many sympathetic "awww"s and she does laughs.

...which kind of brings me to one of my complaints about the movie. Ramona, who was arguably not as fleshed-out as she could/should have been even in the books, has even less to work with in the movie script. She appears, Scott falls in love with her, and... the rest of the plot just sort of follows from that premise. Mary Elizabeth Winstead does a great job with what she's given, but I felt like there wasn't enough to the character to make her particularly sympathetic. I never got a sense for why Ramona was worth all the fighting. This will only be a spoiler if you haven't read the last book )

(the following paragraph talks about the movie vs book endings, but with specific spoilers under cuts. If you don't want any discussion of the end, skip it)

That said, without getting into details, if there's anywhere the movie falls down, in my opinion it's still the ending. I think I liked the ending in the comics better, but can see how it wouldn't translate to film well, and in fact there are things in the movie version of the end that I liked better than in the comics version, like movie spoiler ). And yet... there was something that left me a bit cold about it, even though I can't quite put my finger on what. I think one element might have been movie spoiler )

Interestingly, most of the other complaints of which I can think are actually complaints I had with the comics, which are translated faithfully, and sometimes more palatably, in the movie. For example, the comics spoiler ). Similarly, the movie reproduces the quick cuts between times and locations that tended to confuse and annoy me in the comics, but as quick cuts are practically a trademark of Wright anyway, they work much better in the movie, to such an extent that it occurred to me to wonder whether O'Malley had really been trying to write a movie all along, and was actually limited by his medium in that regard.

In short, all complaints aside Scott Pilgrim is one of the best, if the not the best comic->film adaptations I've seen, and is definitely my new favorite Edgar Wright movie (though, truth be told I've always preferred Spaced to his movies anyway). I'm not much of a film person, but between SP and Inception, 2010 has added two new ones to my list of favorites, so I guess it's been a pretty good year for movies! :D



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