“Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” made a disappointing $10.6 million at the box office this past weekend, trailing behind the less critically acclaimed “The Expendables” ($34.8 mil) and “Eat Pray Love” ($23.1 mil) and prompting much t-shirt-rending and soul-searching about what went wrong.
Was it the fault of the marketing? Are geeks too fickle or too niche an audience? Is Michael Cera too noodly a star to pin a movie on? Could the kinetic, game-inspired visual language be the cinematic equivalent of those ringtones only kids can hear?
I enjoyed the film — with some serious reservations about characterizations — but I got a giggle from the widely cited suggestion from an unnamed producer in the Hollywood Reporter who said that “the pic would have been better served offering more of a date-movie vibe and leaning less on ‘geeky, kung fu movie’ elements.”
Come on, now: “Scott Pilgrim” was watched primarily by the young guys it was intended for. It’s as much of a date movie as “Eat Pray Love,” which no one hesitated to consign to a hugely female audience. They both count on your being predisposed to like or at least relate to the main character, since that character’s journey of personal discovery and wish fulfillment is the entire arc of the film.
To market or portray “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” as a movie about two people falling in love would be as much a misrepresentation as some perceive the current campaign to be. It’s not. It’s about a directionless 22-year-old who learns (a little) to get over his own feelings of inadequacy and to take some responsibility for his own sometimes dickish actions. The primary female characters are around only to enable this — Ramona (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) by providing the storied background Scott’s forced to get over, and Knives (Ellen Wong) by being the adoring discard Scott ends up treating just as badly as his last girlfriend treated him.
The film’s battling of evil exes has little, ultimately, to do with Ramona at all. It’s instead a metaphor for Scott’s own insecurities — his dream girl, who in his eyes is so smokin’ the snow literally melts beneath her feet, turns out to have been in relationships with an increasingly intimidating parade that includes a movie star, a rock star, another girl and, most comically, a pair of twins. Can he measure up? Can he even manage to try? What Ramona sees in Scott we’re left to figure out — over the course of the film, they don’t actually spend much time together — and she’s left as an intriguing but obscure object of desire for our hero.
I don’t mean to argue that “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” is a movie you have to be a 20-something guy to enjoy, just that any emotional resonance will come from being able to relate to Scott, who’s far from a universally appealing character. And it’s how he’s drawn, and the presumption of sympathy for him, that proved the major speed bump in the film for me. Maybe that’s why the crowds turned out the way they did this past weekend — watching a grizzled Sylvester Stallone blow things up or a smiley Julia Roberts gobble pasta are far easier flights of fantasy than Michael Cera’s self-involved journey to self-confidence, no matter how electrifyingly and entertainingly it’s filmed.