2010 // USA // Edgar Wright // August 23, 2010 // Theatrical Print (St. Louis Cinemas Chase Park Plaza)
Revisiting Edgar Wright's bitingly funny, pixelated mash-up of geek culture and romantic comedy tropes, this time with the Lovely Wife, I was struck by how relaxed the film is about its ambitions. Compared to Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, which are deliriously fun but embrace their respective generic legacies a little too unquestioningly for my taste, Scott Pilgrim always retains a touch of the sardonic. And yet it never acquires the grating self-satisfaction that plagues so many satirical films. Perhaps it's just that Wright's full-throttle comedic approach smooths over the rough edges. However, a second viewing and a thumb-through of the first Scott Pilgrim graphic novel reveals that the film's admirable balancing act flows directly from its strength as a shrewd adaptation. Bryan Lee O'Malley's manga-tinged black-and-white funny books necessarily lose some of their indie scruffiness in the translation to the big screen, but Wright's approach is in a different key than the slavish (or desperate) devotion of a fanboy. He preserves the visual inventiveness of the comics, borrows liberally from O'Malley's writing (sharpening the quips with sheer velocity), and uses his own medium to fine effect. Exhibit A: The characters of the comics, who are lovingly written but often pictorially indistinguishable with their wide eyes and unfussy lines, are each brought to striking and distinctive life in Wright's film by a succession of marvelously cast performers. Secondary characters such as Scott's snide roommate Wallace Wells might be caricatures, but Kieran Culkin makes him memorable, dammit, and not just with the prickly lines he spouts, but all the wonderful details of his physical performance. (Culkin's slightly tipsy, archly helpful delivery of "Scott! Look out! It's that one guy!" might be one of my favorite throwaway moments this year.) This sort of creative doodling and the exploitation of all of cinema's components—actors, motion, sound, and so forth—is what makes Scott Pilgrim the film such a pleasurable experience.