As the song says, love hurts. And that’s especially the case when the girl of your dreams has seven evil ex-lovers looking to kick your butt in a series of duels that include everything from demonic Bollywood dancers to the mighty paranormal powers enabled by a strictly vegan diet.
Welcome to true romance, ”Scott Pilgrim Vs the World” style. Based on the six-volume series of graphic novels by Bryan Lee O’Malley, the film adaptation by gifted ”Shaun of the Dead” and ”Hot Fuzz” director Edgar Wright follows the trials and tribulations of Scott (played by ”Superbad”’s Michael Cera), a twentysomething slacker, indie-rock bassist and videogame enthusiast who finds himself fighting for his love life when he becomes infatuated with Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a girl whose romantic baggage comes with physical beatdowns attached.
The reality may be heightened – each opponent Scott dispatches during his videogame-like battle disintegrates into gold coins, for one thing – but Scott Pilgrim Vs the World also tackles the vagaries of love, romance and infatuation with tremendous humour and unexpected insight as Scott weighs up the possibility of a relationship with the beautiful, emotionally-bruised Ramona.
“Scott is definitely something of an adolescent in a lot of ways, and with young love every relationship is the best thing that ever happened and every break-up is the worst thing that ever happened,” says Wright.
“Scott is definitely at that stage in his life – he’s gone through this break-up with which he clearly views as the worst thing that ever happened but he blames it on this silly haircut he got. He’s dating this teenage girl named Knives, who is clearly besotted with him, and he’s doing that as something of an ego boost.
“When Ramona comes into his life, he may see her as his intended yet she may just see him as a nice guy to have something casual with. So he’s getting his comeuppance in a way. He’s not a malicious character but he is thoughtless, and I think what the film is about is him coming to terms with the consequences of his actions.”
It’s pretty thoughtful stuff for a movie that wears its videogame, indie rock and pop culture influences fairly loudly and proudly on its sleeve. And Wright bristles slightly at early (and misguided, for mine) reviews of ”Scott Pilgrim Vs the World” that label its love story as “kind of shallow”.
“From our point of view we tried to plot out the emotional journey of the film in a very detailed way,” he says. “This is a love story that’s not necessarily black and white – Scott himself has varying shades of grey. He’s not always a good guy and he pays the price for that. And while he believes he fighting for love when he’s up against these evil exes, he really doesn’t even know if he’s fighting for the right reasons. I think a lot of people think young love is all, to quote the film, ‘peaches and gravy’. But it’s a little more complicated than that.”
”Scott Pilgrim Vs the World” sees Wright going Hollywood, so to speak, after the success of his previous two films and the much-loved TV series ”Spaced”. While his past projects had seen him working regularly with friends and collaborators like actor/co-writer Simon Pegg, Scott Pilgrim took him out his comfort zone in many ways.
Wright admits that he was able to bring many of his regular co-workers aboard ”Scott Pilgrim” but the addition of new faces like screenwriter Michael Bacall and especially O’Malley helped him make the transition. “When it comes to adapting material, I don’t think I would have done if I didn’t have any contact with the author,” says Wright. “The fact that Bryan was so approachable made it much more fun to do.”
In the five years since Wright first began work on the film, O’Malley’s series has become more and more popular with each new book that’s been released. The filmmaker admits that a few big changes had to be made in order to streamline the six volumes (the final book in the series, Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour, has just been released) into a two-hour movie. “But as there are expectations that audiences have of a big summer movie, we also had the licence to do things a bit differently – we wanted to take the essence of the books and go even further with it in some respects,” he says.
“When I first started, I was a little sceptical about making the film based on just the one book that was out – I said ‘Can we just wait until they’re all published?’ But there’s definitely the feeling in Hollywood of striking while the iron is hot, which in this case turned out to be a really good idea because we became involved with Bryan and the whole thing became a very organic process. Michael and I encouraged him to map out the rest of the books, which he did, and I think it’s nice that the film and the final volume are being released so close to each other.”
Another key collaborator was Wright’s first and only choice for the title role, Michael Cera. “When it comes to the character, there are two camps: there’s the people who think Scott Pilgrim is awesome and the people who think Scott Pilgrim believes himself to be awesome,” he says. “Bryan and I are definitely in the latter camp, but you’ve got these fans who think Scott should be played by some young, handsome matinee-idol type. I never, ever thought that. I wondered about who I’d want to watch for the entire film in this role, someone who had that kind of goofy charm as well as this kind of fragility about himself. And that was Michael. Plus I thought it would be great fun watching him be a badass!”
Scott Pilgrim Vs the World opens August 12.
– GUY DAVIS