About a year ago, Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) had a spot of girlfriend trouble - he was dumped, and still hasn't got over it. Both he and his ex are in bands, and hers is doing far better than his, a ramshackle little outfit called Sex Bob-Omb which he plays in hoping for a big break. Today the main topic of conversation is not the music but Scott's new girlfriend, who happens to be a seventeen-year-old schoolgirl called Knives (Ellen Wong), which none of his bandmates think is appropriate. He shrugs their objections off as he thinks a five year age difference is acceptable...
...but what if someone entered into his life who appeared far more appropriate? Someone like delivery woman Ramona (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) who has recently moved to the Toronto area for reasons she is unforthcoming about, but we will find out about soon enough? This was the fourth film from Edgar Wright, making his first American movie after the success he had had in his native Britain, success which had translated around the world thanks to his work's good humour and pop culture savvy. As well as a keen sense of relationships and the complexities that come with them, which would have made him ideal for adapting this comic book.
Or so you might have thought, but there were plenty of audiences who did not respond to what he conjured up here, and the film settled into that cult status awarded to audacious movies that may or may not pull off their ambition, but do command a small but loyal following. It could have been that the main problem here was that for all the talk of love, there was very little romantic about it until the final minute, and this was a film that lasted almost two hours. Instead, love is a battlefield in this, as the old song goes, with Scott forced to fight a series of Ramona's exes if he wants to get anywhere with her, which he does, but did leave the story open to accusations of repetition that the source would have coped with better.
This was romance mainly for those who had grown up unable to tear themselves away from their games console for too long, as each bout of combat is presented as if Scott were playing his way through a game, complete with little icons and messages to keep us up to date on his status. Yet as far as the plot went, this was equivalent to every indie mumblecore movie you had ever seen - or avoided - with Scott very unsure of his feelings, knowing he wanted to be in love but not quite able to cope with all the baggage that goes with it. The fact that Ramona literally offers him a whole collection of ex-lovers to live up to does little to bolster his confidence, except that he's finding his feet and won't give in.
After a while you may wonder if Ramona was really worth it, but nearly every character carries their own emotional wounds here, some of them inflicted by Scott himself. It's as if this lot wish for the fairy tale that the movies tell them love should be, but the unhappy reality for them is that there are too many personality clashes to be dealt with for the path of l'amour to run smooth. By making this inner conflict an external one, as if this were a seventies kung fu movie with twenty-first century action fantasy trappings, Wright and his team risked looking ridiculous, but somehow, if you're willing to go along with their invention and jaded optimism (if there is such a thing), you are entertained. It's as if the anger that the characters cannot cope with blossoms into exuberance and brightness, a healthy way of channelling all the guilt, frustration and resentment that goes hand in hand with relationships in spite of their best efforts to stay upbeat. In that way, Scott Pilgrim proved truly cheering with its tentative Hollywood ending. Music by Nigel Godrich.