I blame part of that on the films already released this year. The action in Scott Pilgrim is great, but it's basically on par with Kick-Ass in terms of both visual coherence (which is really important in these Michael Bay days) and creativity. Scott Pilgrim has plenty of visual jokes and witty lines, but Toy Story 3 made me laugh more. Scott Pilgrim is visually inventive and arresting, but not nearly so inventive and arresting as Inception.
But it isn't just weak by comparison. Every individual element of this film is appealing: the video-game logic and imagery, the kinetic, maybe even muscular editing, the cast (with Kieran Culkin, Chris Evans, Alison Pill and Aubrey Plaza holding it down in particular), and the wide-range of 90s-centric, 20-something cultural anchor points. But it doesn't add up. The whole is somehow not as great as the parts.
For one thing, despite the fact that this movie ought to be for a guy like me, it (oddly) skews younger. It's especially weird because when you consider the references (late-80s video games, The Smashing Pumpkins), I should really be on the young end of the target age bracket. So why does this movie go to such great lengths to avoid any swearing? Why does it tip-toe carefully around issues of sex? Why is it rated PG-13? I don't have any problem with PG-13 movies (like, uh, Inception), but Scott Pilgrim calls attention to it's own censorship in a way that doesn't feel nearly as intuitive as the rest of the surreal elements of the film. [Kind of spoiler-y and nitpick-y for the rest of this paragraph.] Scott and other characters can wield weapons and fight with super-human strength, and this is never addressed as unusual. It's just the way this world works. Yet in another scene, Aubrey Plaza's character repeatedly swears at Scott and a black box appears in front of her face as each swear word is bleeped out. "How are you doing that with your mouth?" Scott asks her. For some reason, this one unusual part about this wholly unusual world is called attention to. And other swears in other scenes are also obscured by sound effects (like a popping noise from a cord connecting to a guitar) rather than the self-conscious black box. It's inconsistent and awkward. This movie is already gunning for a niche-market (it was only playing four times today at the gigantic AMC on Boston Common) and one would think most of that niche is over 17 by now.
Anna Kendrick, the justification for including this review on this blog, is Anna Kendrick-y as always. Her comedic chops have been well-established. She doesn't get to do much (she's in this about as much as she is in Twilight), but she is very good at making the most of short lengths of screen-time. Her interactions with Kieran Culkin are particularly funny - the movie could have used more of both of them. One of the more clever things this movie does is incorporate several of the bland anecdotes we all found compelling in high school as earnest dialogue; at one point one character informs the others that we only use about 10% of our brain's potential. Directors use Anna Kendrick the same way.
I don't mean to sound like I didn't enjoy this movie - I did. And a few hours later, retrospectively, it almost seems better than it did at the time. Leaving the theater the whole thing felt slight and airless, which is probably due to a dragged out and self-undermining denouement. But that's something to discuss when more people have a chance to see the movie. If you waited for the DVD I wouldn't blame you. This is the best Michael Cera film I've seen, and Edgar Wright's most creative. The music is pretty good, and pretty loud. I'm getting my bass guitar out of the basement. And I just might dye my hair pink like Ramona.
Were it not for the giddy and morbid Kick-Ass or the assured and mind-blowing Inception, it would probably be one of my favorite "big" movies this year, but I'd like to think those films illuminate the problems with this film rather than obscure its merits. And maybe it also means I'll never like anything again. Thanks, Christopher Nolan. At least when I watch Twilight movies I don't have that problem.
Previous entries can be found in the Biterion Collection directory.