Sunday, December 4, 2011

In Defense Of Scott Pilgrim's Detractors

After a most recent rewatch of what has over the last year and a half become one of my favorite mainstream films of the last several years, it finally came to my attention that there are other reasons why even those who finally got around to catching Edgar Wright's adaptation, and disliked it, or just felt outright ready to dismiss it. Stylistics & Michael Cera overexposure aside, there are some elements embedded in the film's approach that can easily be seen as ripe for ridicule, or dismissal. And while some of it may lay flat in the lap of the original source material created by Bryan Lee O'Malley, there is a bit of reality play that at times comes at the expense of what some audiences expect out of their central characters. Especially when the film almost defiantly asks the audience to laugh along with an anti-protagonist who's greatest triumph come when it barely steps onto the front porch. Mix this with a virtually cold, unsympathetic (to many) object of affections, and it is hard to identify with many of these characters on an amiability level...But many might still know many of them.

As mentioned in my review back upon it's release in August 2011, one of my minor gripes about the film was how this rendition of events gave the character of Ramona Flowers not only a more tattered, damaged demeanor, but little in the way of character agency, particularly near the finale when she reveals her reasons for returning to her last "evil" ex in the form of Gideon Graves. The addition of a computer chip implanted at the base of her neck, rendering her incapable of escaping the douchey record producer continues to come off as a sleight toward what was once a more bright, assertive, and understandable character. BUT - When taken in the context of the film, which is nearly completely taking place within Scott's ADDled mind/skewed imagination, it serves to support his view of Ramona, which goes all the way around to inform what some viewers are and are not willing to follow in a film of this size. Where the original comics spent more time wavering in and out of Pilgrim's head, revealing the reality of a world moving on without him, the film is much more comfortable within the silly, exaggerated confines of an aloof imagination.

It is this helplessly myopic worldview that at times comes at odds with the expectations of many. And even I, as a viewer couldn't help but notice it. But what always balances it out with me is in how Wright and co-writer, Michael Bacall granted the Knives Chau character enough of an arc to see through her erstwhile ex-boyfriend's irresponsible actions, going from a child to a self-respecting young lady. She becomes everything Ramona and Scott can't seem to get right. The near-stealthy manner in which the "middle-character" becomes the real protagonist is something of a kick in the pants to many to the point that some often don't even see it. It is missing these elements, and perhaps even disliking who are supposed to be the central characters that can fuel much of the divide between fans and detractors of the film. But what I do love about the film aside from it's eye-popping presentation, energy and musical editing, is the fact that it DOES make it clear that this is very much a parody of every mumblecore film ever made where the characters are blinded by whatever short-sighted selfishness the film demands of them. It dares those of us surrounded by subcultures to seek out the real behind the attitude, and is a reminder of what could be lost when we buy so much into the collective images of any pop-culture era.

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