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“Scott Pilgrim” Gives a Big Level Up to Nerd Culture

“Scott Pilgrim” Gives a Big Level Up to Nerd Culture  (photo)

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I remember when I read the first volume of the “Scott Pilgrim” graphic novels for the first time. “Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life” set me up to think that I’d be getting a typical aimless twentysomething slice-of-life story, with some romantic longing thrown in. Hints of weirdness lurked at the fringes but, once the dragon punches and musical showdowns began percolating, you realized that this was going to be some other kind of different and special. O’Malley’s big win with the “Scott Pilgrim” books is how they align the plot devices of superhero comics, genre entertainment and/or video games with life’s big coming-of-age moments. So, Scott isn’t just a lovesick 23-year-old bassist who’s gotta deal with a girl’s relationship baggage; he’s also suddenly unleashing roundhouse kicks against said girl’s seven evil exes.

Edgar Wright’s adaptation of Bryan Lee O’ Malley’s award-winning work takes the video game logic dynamic and ramps it up exponentially. From the start, it moves incredibly fast, zipping along into a story centered on the title character’s explosion of love for the mysterious girl-of-his dreams Ramona Flowers. It’s a film that knows its audience consumes memes by the gallon and throws the “Seinfeld” soundtrack, PC error noises and other recognizable bleeps and bloops of the digital generations to nestle the movie in a fertile framework.

The central question at the heart of the “Scott Pilgrim” universe — in both its movie and book forms — is how to love someone that still might have a little maturing to do. In Pilgrim’s world, the way to face up to those flaws is with karate kicks and giant hammers, stand-ins for the frustration, rage and impatience that things aren’t the way you want them to be. And it’s here that Wright runs into the classic adaptation problem. Where O’Malley spooled out Scott and Ramona’s romance over six volumes in six years, Wright tries to smush it into 150 minutes. As fast as the film moves, it takes a lot of goodwill on the audience’s part to believe that the story’s leads are meant to be together. While I did feel like Scott did have a certain amount of yearning for Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s Ramona, it felt more like infatuation than true love.


The true love part for me comes in Wright’s approach to bringing comic-book storytelling style to life. Wright uses celluloid to blow out the elements that print couldn’t serve well, so the musical band battle sequences get a lot more screen time, helping to create a scrappy, garage-band vibe that readers of the comics could only imagine. In particular, the face-off with Ramona’s twin exes gets changed for the better, becoming a soundwave showdown that rocks the house. He also redeems the on-screen sound effect from campiness and there’s a ton of other sly little tricks Wright uses, like changing the background while dialogue continues. Almost every frame of the movie engages in some sort of visual punnery and there’s no point in trying to count the amount of video game references, considering how deep and ubiquitous they are.

O’Malley used the experiences of old school games as both magical realism and cultural touchstone in his sequential work and Wright deepens that idea by using games and other elements of mainstream pop culture as a signifier for what binds a generation’s imaginations to each other. No film derived directly from a game has done this, nor could it. Other movies — even “Prince of Persia,” which I liked — remain more concerned with visual nods that wink back at their provenance. Under Wright’s imaginative execution, “Scott Pilgrim” channels a bit of what it feels like to play a video game. Falling in love mirrors the wonder of exploration in a virtual environment. Finding out what makes that girl or guy laugh is kind of like scoring some treasure in “Tomb Raider.” Anyone who’s pined for another knows that you can like someone intensely in ways that don’t make sense, until you spend time with that person to figure out what energy there actually is between you. And in games, the experience of play clarifies the systems that govern the initial illogic of a game’s systems. What “Scott Pilgrim” does is create spot-on metaphors pulled out of video game vocabularies and the result is a big +2 smarts, +4 fun and +7 geek cred for filmmaker, comics artist and audience.

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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