This is a response which I wrote to a friend whom I will call The Commercial Real Estate Broker (CREB). CREB is not a geek. At all. He likes sports. And finance. And businessy things. He's the kind of person I never really thought I'd be friends with. But, I am. And I have become his go-to person when he needs something in the geek world explained.
A few days ago, he wrote to me and said,
"Since I haven't talked to you in almost two months, I have no one to explain to me what the fuck Scott Pilgrim v. The World is all about. Seriously, WTF was that movie about and why was Thomas Jane in it? I mean, I understand why Jason Schwartzman was in it... he's been doing shit like that since Rushmore, but the guy from Hung? I was lost."
The following is my response to him. I thought that some of you might find it useful, in case you've got friends who are also in the same boat as CREB. Feel free to direct them here for an explanation.
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is about Scott falling in love with Ramona Flowers; but in order to be with her, he first has to defeat her Seven Evil Exes. It's also about indy music, which is Scott's other love, and the rise of his band Sex-Bob-Omb. As he pursues Ramona, however, the time that he has to put into his music decreases, which allows for Young Neil to take his place in the band. Scott has chosen Ramona over his
art, and that's okay with him. This third part is a reflection of the other main component of the story: relationships.
Scott lives his
life (and his life, to be honest, really is) like a video game. Sometimes he competes via his music, sometimes in a physical fight. Each time he defeats an Ex (a "boss," in video game terms), he gets coins. When he learns an important lesson, he gets and extra life or a special item (like the "power of love" sword). A good example of this movie running like a video game is at the end, when Scott makes a first
attempt at Gideon, and fails. The second pass is a "boss rush," where he blows past everything that gave context to the fight the first time around, because he already knows all that, and doesn't need to bother
with it again: he just needs to get to the fight and defeat Gideon. (I explain this only because you asked; I assume that you have enough familiarity with video games to know exactly what I'm discussing here.)
graphic novels, which run six volumes (each one about 1/2 an inch thick), go more into the relationship between Scott and Ramona (and into the relationships between other characters as well). Both have a habit of running away from their problems. Ramona, perhaps, more so than Scott. Scott is really rather a dick to Knives Chau (his high-school age girlfriend), and Ramona basically ran out on each of her Exes. This is their moment to decide whether to fall into their old patterns, or whether it's worth it to fight for their relationship.
books, we also get more exploration of Scott as a slacker. He's basically crashing at Wallace Wells' apartment (seen in the movie, when we get all the labels as to what belongs to Wallace and what belongs to
Scott. Sidebar: all the labels that appear within the movie are directly taken from the books, where people, places, and things are consistently labeled). When he finally gets a job, washing dishes at a vegan
restaurant, it's a real coup for him, and he gains a level (as in a video game).
All in all, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World is,
admittedly, best understood by people who play lots of video games, and by comic book nerds. It was not the commercial success that it should have been, given the innovative direction and cinematography (then again, when are innovative films known for their box-office success?). Critical reaction was dependent on whether the critic dismissed the film because it was so heavily steeped in geek culture that he or she did not understand and chalked it up to being aimed at guys between the ages of 15 and 30, or whether the given critic had either the background or the open mind to see it as the ground-breaking piece of film making that it was. It was also frequently belittled as a "hipster" film, a label which I see as incompatible with it, and derived from the fact that some of the characters could be considered "hipsters." Guillermo delToro laced into the viewing public, saying that people gripe about Hollywood making shitty movies, but then when one like this comes out, the public (to whom he referred as "motherfuckers") stays away in droves, proving to the studios that all they want is bigger explosions and more of the same.
I, myself, saw it twice: the first time for free (using a
pass I got at the midnight release of the sixth book), and the second time as a member of the paying public (i.e. not one of those that delToro called a "motherfucker"). It is a film that I will watch over and over again, as my boyfriend now owns it on BluRay.