Photos © Universal Pictures
Review by Ryan Wilson

Choosing which movie to watch is often like choosing which version of yourself you'd like to join for an evening. What are we, after all, if not a reflection of our choice?

I considered this last week as I stood in line, ready to buy my ticket for the latest Julia Roberts film Eat Pray Love. I'm all for the spiritual journey, as is evidenced of my collection of dog-eared Hermann Hesse novels. And I genuinely like movies about women; I find myself watching Terms of Endearment and The Joy Luck Club in their entirety every time they're on TV. But I just couldn't give my time over to Eat Pray Love. Not while I have a pulse.

Maybe it's the book club marketing of the film. If I can't sit through an episode of Oprah, I probably can't sit through the story of a globetrotting divorcée trying to find her self. I know that sounds like a bad break-up. What I mean is that it's not you Eat Pray Love; it's me. I simply needed more edge. Lucky for me, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World was playing next door. I skipped lines and didn't look back.

And what I found in the film was really just another type of spiritual journey, albeit one within a comic book/video game world. Scott Pilgrim's story is really an allegory of what it's like to be in your early twenties and searching for yourself as you search for your soul mate, and in this way it's just as mature as Eat Pray Love.

Add the fact that Scott Pilgrim must defeat his love interest's seven exes in hand-to-hand combat and you have some first rate entertainment.

The film works because our hero is not the traditional male but a meek and mild-mannered young man that we would not expect. He's like Anthony Michael Hall in John Hughes' pictures but taken seriously. If you remember Weird Science, you'll recall that the geeks always inherit the film anyway, but half the time they’re mocked. Scott Pilgrim is never mocked. The camera simply accepts him as the earnest young man that he is. We never question why attractive girls want him because we know he has worth.

How appropriate then that Scott Pilgrim vs. The World would open the same weekend that Eat Pray Love would give us Julia Roberts' traditional beauty and The Expendables would give us Sylvester Stallone's traditional testosterone. Scott Pilgrim feels less like an alternative. He's the alternative, offering perhaps the best view of Generation Y on film to date.

Parents may question the value of video games and graphic novels in their child's life, but the filmmakers here use the tropes of each art form to present just how the kids these days view love and relationships. The kids depicted are whip-smart and sensitive, best embodied by Scott Pilgrim's astute band mates. They don't stand for what Holden Caulfield would have once called "phoniness," but they're well-adjusted and comfortable in their pessimism in a way that Caulfield never was.

Michael Cera, who plays Scott Pilgrim, especially shines a light through the mire of teen angst. More than any working actor of this new generation, Cera can play smart, sweet, and sincere. He's found his niche as a mumbling, stumbling do-gooder. Cera's first big role was as an awkward teen on the brilliant show, Arrested Development, where his shtick was often the joke. But then he grew up a bit and began getting roles as an affable leading man in good teen films like Juno and Superbad. He's difficult to dislike without feeling like a bully.

The best parts of Scott Pilgrim are simply watching Cera negotiate his affection for his adorable 17-year-old groupie girlfriend and the also adorable girl of his dreams play by the Mary Elizabeth Winstead. Being such a nice guy, he doesn't want to disappoint either girl, so he avoids making the choice. Few actors can get away with playing such a heel and still garnering our affection, but Cera does it. His lack of action is his wanting to avoid confrontation.

Of course, as the title suggests, one cannot avoid the world. Confrontation finds him in the form of Winstead's ex-suitors who have heard of his crush. At this point the films stops being just a smart romantic comedy and becomes an emo version of Kill Bill. Cera's Pilgrim runs the gauntlet of exes until he reaches, in true video game fashion, the ultimate level where he must fight the diabolical Jason Schwartzman, who's not just an ex-boyfriend but also head of the record label Pilgrim's band covets.

Many of the fight scenes take too long. Also, the ultimate clash with Schwartzman feels like a retread of the 2001 film Jossie and the Pussycats, sprinkling in lines about corporate commercialism. But director Edgar Wright is hyper-aware of these moves, and he seems to be winking at us throughout with some of the most innovative editing I've seen lately in a film. Wright's 2004 film Shaun of the Dead has been a cult classic for a few years now, and it's perfectly reasonable to expect the same for Scott Pilgrim vs. The World.

With the kids going back to school soon, it's the perfect season for Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. The film reminds us that the search for self needn't take until middle age. Why not celebrate some enlightened youth now?

As the poet says, "The kids are alright."

Take 5 on Film is a production of Delta College's WUCX Q 90.1, airing every Saturday at 8:35 a.m. and again at 9:35 a.m.. For more information, visit deltabroadcasting.org.

© Ryan Wilson, 2010