Despite box-office failure, Edgar Wright’s Scott Pilgrim vs. the World has managed to reach status as a cult classic both amongst fans of Wright’s work and a wider audience. An adaptation of the Bryan Lee O’Malley graphic novel series of the same name, the film follows 22 year old Scott Pilgrim (the forever awkward Michael Cera) as he takes on the seven evil exes of the woman of his dreams, Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead).
Although the movie may appear at surface level to be yet another shallow addition to the video game film genre, it holds its own in an otherwise painfully done category. For one, it has a very specific kind of nostalgia; released in 2010, it is very much a product of its time. Graphic ringer t-shirts, indie rock, and a rising moment of hipster-ism, Wright’s film is a microcosm of contemporary pop culture. The film plays into the cultural fascination with everything remotely nerdy at the start of the 2010s, a trope best exemplified by the now widely despised sitcom The Big Bang Theory. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World uses almost every stereotype of its time, with the socially awkward nerd, the gay best friend, and the manic pixie flower girl all central to its plot. Despite this, the film never fails to feel self-aware, subverting a stereotype every time it establishes one. This nuance is key to the joy of Scott Pilgrim, nothing is ever what it appears at face-value, and the film isn’t afraid to poke fun at the world that it creates.
The aesthetics of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, while adding to the cultural nostalgia, are a source of joy in themselves. Every detail of each frame feels thought through, and it’s impossible to catch every choice in one go, which means that the film is practically built for re-watching, with every screening revealing new details. It wholeheartedly embraces colour and special effects in a way that is joyful and sincere, revelling in visual play. Many recent films hold their own in terms of cinematography, with Wes Anderson and Christopher Nolan always providing hits, but Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is one of few films that uses visuals with equal value in both melancholy and action-packed moments.
The film has been criticised for prioritising pace and look over plot, but this misses that its visuals are integral to its charm. While Scott and Ramona’s romance may seem at times shallow and clichéd, I would argue that the film isn’t about a love story, but instead, the process of growing up and transitioning. Scenes between Scott and Knives blend into one another, displaying Scott’s inability to fully commit his attention to their relationship. Anyone that has experienced any form of depression knows the feeling of life passing you by, and the film’s visuals reflect this process in Scott’s life.
The melancholy frames of Toronto deepen the underlying unease in the film. To me, Scott’s quest is less about getting the girl, and more about trying to find meaning in a life that is, at the start of the film, portrayed as mundane and pretty much stagnant. Ramona’s quest is simply something to do, a distraction from the reality of still living opposite to one’s parents after graduating and being a mediocre bassist in a local band. It’s hard not to relate to the moments of meaninglessness that we see before Ramona’s entry, and the film’s ambiguous ending makes it unclear as to whether Scott’s distraction actually works.
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is one of few films that feels like an honest attempt to portray the process of being stuck, unsure of where to go next. Many coming-of-age films try to tackle this feeling, but often end up on the route of overshadowing any real moments of honesty with happy endings of some form. Wright’s film, on the other hand, doesn’t quite give us that satisfaction, instead choosing to show moments of magic for what they really are: sparse, and often somewhat unreliable.