Friday, November 19, 2010

Scott Pilgrim Vs. My Bloated Sense of Self Worth

Not a day goes by recently that I don't want pizza.  I don't know if I would qualify pizza as my favourite food, but I do know that I want pizza as much as Lindsey Lohan wants cocaine or like most heterosexual men want to ride Meagan Fox's juicy ass.  Lately I can't get enough.  Last weekend my brother Christopher came up to help me put hardwood floors in my house and my wife bought us a Pizza Hut pizza for supper.  I remember it distinctly because for some inexplicable reason my wife hates Pizza Hut.  Every time we're trolling for fast food on a Friday evening because fuck it, it's the weekend and we don't feel like cooking, and we settle on pizza and I start listing off pizza places, she inevitably shoots down all suggestions except for Dominos and Toppers.  Pizza Hut isn't even considered.  It's a huge piss off, but fuck it, it's the weekend, we don't feel like cooking, and I want my fucking pizza.  So when I finally sank my teeth into that delicious Pizza Hut pizza I felt how Pam Anderson must have felt chowing down on Tommy Lee's dick for the first time.  It was greasy, it was cheesy, it melted in your mouth.  The pizza was good too.

This little anecdote actually has very little to do with my review of SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD, but for the sake of narrative cohesion I'm going to take a long shot and try to tie it in.  How about this: my yearning for the pizza I can't have is really a metaphor for my insatiable appetite for high quality, significant films.  It's a weak connection at best, and it's awkward in the sense that in the framework of this metaphor my wife represents the bloated, lumbering beast known as Hollywood -a disgusting creation oozing sequels and spewing forth remakes- that seems as intent to stop me from seeing a good movie as my wife seems to be to stop me from having my favourite pizza and I still have to live with her -at least in theory- for at least another ten or twenty years (presuming she doesn't divorce me during that time).

"Wow," you might be saying right about now, "what a convoluted and inefficient way to start off a movie review."  Well either you're an impatient prick, or I am a genius ahead of my time.  Or maybe a little of both.  The simple fact is that sometimes there is a method to the madness that you just can't see, and I am so glad I didn't see the madness that is SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD coming.  It was so much fucking fun to be completely knocked on my ass.  This is a movie that came out of nowhere and my only regret about seeing this movie is that I didn't watch it sooner.  I find it so rare these days to watch a movie that has me clamoring to watch it again the minute it's over, and I was completely shocked when for days afterwards I could think of nothing else but how I could sneak out of bed or out of work to watch the movie again.  I was totally captivated from the very first frame and so thoroughly entertained that I had to change my pants afterwards (because, you know, I blew my load.  Oh, shut up).  If I could use only one word to describe this movie (you should be so lucky) it would be: Fun.  But interwoven within that fun was one of the most relevant commentaries ever presented that encapsulates how many young men perceive the world around them and, indeed, how they are navigating through their entire lives.  But we'll get to that.

But first, the plot!  SCOTT PILGRIM is a tough movie to summarize, but basically it follows the budding romance between Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) and new girl on the block and resident "it" girl Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead).  However, nothing is ever as simple as it seems, and before Scott and Ramona can move forward he has to defeat her seven evil exes in video-game inspired, epic kung-fu battles, deal with his own messy break-up with his high school girlfriend (ie. she's seventeen and he's twenty-two) and help his band achieve maximum awesomeness at various gigs throughout Toronto.

I know I've been complaining about Michael Cera a lot lately and how he hasn't grown as an artist and how his skin is so youthful and much paler than mine (that glorious, white, bastard) but he is perfect for this role.  He pulls off the vulnerability and action impeccably.  Mary Elizabeth Winstead (pictured below), aside from being really fucking hot (what is it about punk rocker chicks?), is great as Ramona and plays the jaded, experienced punk rock angel perfectly.  In fact the entire cast was phenomenally well matched with their roles and did an all around fantasticjob.  Keiran Culkin did an amazing job as Scott's gay, sarcastically witty best friend and I would totally like to see him in a movie again.  Allison Pill plays the drummer in Scott's band and it was a real treat any time she was on screen.  Pill has some of the best lines in the whole flick, which says a lot in a movie full of great lines.  Others who stood out were Ellen Wong as Scott's 17 year old girlfriend Knives Chau, Chris Evans as one of Ramona's exes ( a great parody of the Hollywood action star), Superman himself Brandon Routh as another of Ramona's exes (a vegan no less, and freaking hilarious), and of course Jason Schartzman as the leader of the League of Evil Exes who was also fantastic.  The script was strong to begin with but these actors really went above and beyond in my book (which has yet to be published).

Now I know for a lot of people this movie might seem -at least on the surface- like an epileptic seizure caught on film with a bunch of over the top one liners and action sequences too ridiculous to fathom.  And I would bet that those people are not heterosexual males between the ages of 18 and 35.  Because if you fall in that category I have the sneaking suspicion that you loved this film.  This is because I believe SCOTT PILGRIM presents a very male-centric view of relationships.  That is not to say that if you're a chick you won't dig it or appreciate it on the same level or that you might be a lesbian (just some food for thought), but it definitely centered on the male dynamic in relationships, primarily in the classical monogamous romantic relationship, but also the friend dynamic.

It was pretty obvious that SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD was a visual allegory for dealing with the emotional baggage that inevitably (or maybe not) comes with starting a new relationship.  In particular SCOTT PILGRIM was about the title character dealing with the emotional complexity that stems from the gradual discovery of the sexual history of his new romantic interest Ramona.  In this way it reminded me a lot of CHASING AMY.  If you haven't seen Kevin Smith's masterpiece CHASING AMY (and shame on you) it basically follows Holden McNeil (Ben Affleck) who falls in love with this chick Alyssa Jones (Joey Lauren Adams) who turns out to be a lesbian.  Or maybe not.  Holden relentlessly pursues Jones and it turns out she's not really as polarized in her sexuality as it would seem and they hook up.  But as they get to know each other Holden gets hung up over his new girlfriend's sexual history (the number of partners, the bisexuality, and an incident with multiple partners that earned her the nickname Finger Cuffs) and his growing feeling of inadequacy as he obsesses over her sexual experience which far exceeds his own.  So while Holden McNeil's obsession is resolved (?) through a series of escalating conversations/arguments about the nature of sexual exploration and ultimately with the proposition of a three way (menage a trois, I believe it's called) with his best friend and his girlfriend, Scott Pilgrim deals with the emotional baggage of his girlfriend's past relationships with flashy video game style battles to the (metaphorical?) death.

CHASING AMY focuses more on frank yet hilarious discussions about the breaking of the hymen in relation to loss of virginity and the necessity of penetration in sex, but at its heart is a lot of the same tension as in SCOTT PILGRIM.  In the movie Scott literally fights Ramona's exes which is visually engaging, but the subtext is that it is actually his psyche coming to terms with the inadequacy he feels as he begins comparing his own sexual history to that of his new squeeze.  The difference between Holden and Scott is that while Holden is consumed by his neurosis and sees the only option to compete with the influence/memory of his girlfriend's exes is to, well, compete with them by becoming more like them (ie. more sexually experimental) Scott is able to work past his neurosis and in the name of self respect embraces the differences between his girlfriend's past beaus and himself, a fact which she herself expressly tells him throughout the movie as a reason for her attraction to him.  This insecurity seems (as far as I can tell) to be a (mostly) male conundrum.  Silent Bob himself said it best in CHASING AMY:

 "At that moment, I felt small, like... like I'd lacked experience, like I'd never be on her level, like I'd never be enough for her or something like that, you know what I'm saying? But, what I did not get, she didn't care. She wasn't looking for that guy anymore."

Men, in general, still seem to be threatened by female sexuality especially when it overpowers or overshadows male sexuality.  More plainly, dudes want a dirty girl without the dirt.  They want a sexually experienced chick who hadn't had sex.  The want the final product without the manufacturing process and the industrial byproducts.  This is in part because of the intimidation factor of being compared with past partners and also the result of laziness at not wanting to have to compete with previous sexual partners.  If your girlfriend/fiance/wife/fuck buddy/friend's wife has never had sex (or has had very little sex) then you don't have to try as hard because she doesn't really know what she's missing.  But the thing is the person who usually cares the most about your sexual history is you (a notable exception, of course, is if you have genital herpes).  A lot of these problems have to do with perception.  Women tend to view relationships as a process.  There is a beginning, but there is no middle and no resolution, and hence no catharsis in the male sense of the word.  Men tend to see relationships how they see video games: a problem to be solved.  You have a given issue (an Enemy), a set of social parameters (the Game World or Level) and a series of actions that can be taken in various combinations (the Controls).  So you enter Relationship Level 3, attack Sexual Inadequacy with your Mace of Arguing +2, then your Spell of Childish Wall-Punching, followed by the Obligatory Make-Up Sex Bonus Level.  Beginning, middle, end.  In theory if you face the same Enemy again then, just like in a video game, the exact same combination will defeat the same bad guy because you've figured out his pattern.  However, this does not hold true because the game parameters are constantly being changed by your significant other because of her aforementioned world view.  Neither one is inherently more correct, but one is infinitely more frustrating and seemingly irrational.
This brings me (in a very roundabout way) to my second point about why SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD is so culturally significant.  It represents how most men (and some women) of my generation (and each subsequent generation) tend to view the world: as a video game.  Everything from work to relationships to eating a sandwich to peeing to playing video games.  In fact every daily activity can be viewed through this lens: there is a mission to accomplish, given parameters of said mission, a limited number of assets to complete the mission and a binary outcome: success or failure.  SCOTT PILGRIM is the embodiment of this world view.  There are the countless references to actual video games: the Street Fighter-esque battles including the countdown, the reward of coins after defeating bad guys a la Mario, the pee meter, over the top video game style fights complete with over sized weapons a la games like Soul Caliber, Zelda music courtesy of Nintendo, the name of Scott's band is Sex Bob-Omb (if you don't get hat reference then you are no friend of mine sir), and at one point Scott picks up an extra life, which, as usual, comes in pretty handy.

It's not just the references in and of themselves that are significant, although they definitely add to the cinematic experience.  It's the fact that Scott is dealing with his emotions under the guise of the video game mentality that make this movie substantial.  It's not just that Scott and his generation like video games: they now see the world as a video game or series of video games.  Video games have reached the level where they are not only informed by society but also inform society arguably more than most other media today (aside from social networking).  (To anyone who cares to argue (like my brother, Matthew) take Grand Theft Auto IV as an example.  In its first 24 hours it made more than $300 million, more than most summer blockbusters make in their entire run in theatres.  Amounts of money on his scale are not only legitimizing in the cocaine-addled rockstar sense, but also in the Wall Street buy your first born child just for fun and sell him for a profit sense.)  This is because unlike listening to music or watching a movie, video games are an immersive experience: that is there is a direct connection between what the audience does and what happens on the screen.  That's why shit like Resident Evil 4, Dead Space, and even Bioshock have given me nightmares more than the Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake, Saw, or even The Fourth Kind ever could have.      

The other component of video games that keep people coming back for more is the stimulation.  There are simply more visual and auditory stimulants per minute than most other forms of media: that is they're fun and engaging.  And fun.  Which is why so many of us try to look at life as though it were a video game: real life is fucking boring.  Going to work, taking out the trash, cooking, eating, taking a steaming dump in the morning, remembering birthdays, taking a shower, taking a piss in the shower, taking a steaming dump in the shower etc.  It's all become mundane because technology has lowered our attention span to ridiculously low levels (which is not necessarily a bad thing) and we require constant stimulation.  So we've begun to approach mundane every day activities as we would a video game.  Maybe your game is Doing As Little As Possible At Work (a game I've all but mastered).  So you sneak around your workplace Splinter Cell style avoiding your boss and going to the bathroom 20 times a day without being detected.  Maybe your game is Unloading the Dishwasher (mandatory game play courtesy of the wife) so in your mind you see the time counting down and a numeric score, increasing each time you put away the pans in the right place (not as easy as you'd think).  Or maybe your game is Driving Your Kids to School so you drive Forza style through the streets then avoid the police like the colourful characters in the GTA series.  Or maybe your game is Getting a Better House, in which case you approach it like an RPG: save up money over time then sell your old item to get enough gold to buy a much better item in the same category.  I no longer talk to people; I interact with characters.  Most people in the world are one-dimensional archetypes whose personalities can be boiled down to between three to five standard responses.  Life has now become a metaphor for video games.

Any way you slice it video games are awesome and real life pales in comparison and this is why SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD spoke to me and by extension (I presume) the rest of my generation.  It was essentially the merging of my two favourite media types: movies and video games.  It also represents another of my favourite things: a fucking great movie.  If you haven't seen this movie yet then get your hand off of your dick (you can replenish your Masturbation Meter later) and glue your eyes to the screen for one of the most fun cinematic experiences of this and a lot of other years.  Edgar Wright, I was wrong to ever doubt you and pledge my lifelong loyalty to you and whatever crazy celebrity religion you belong to (please, god, don't let it be Scientology).  I am definitely in lesbians with SCOTT PILGRIM.

I give SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD a 10/ 10 = One Vegan's Head with Glowing Eyes Exploding in a Shower of Coins


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