Friday, August 13, 2010

Film Review: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

Action scene from Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
Writer: Michael Bacall and Edgar Wright; based on the graphic novels by Bryan Lee O’Malley
Director: Edgar Wright
Producer: Marc Platt, Eric Gitter, Nira Park, Edgar Wright
Cast: Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Kieran Culkin, Chris Evans, Anna Kendrick, Alison Pill, Brandon Routh, Ellen Wong, and Jason Schwartzman
Stylish Romantic-Comedy
1 hour 48 minutes

Right from the opening 8-bit version of the Universal Pictures title sequence, we know that director Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) is going to have fun with this adaptation and be true to it's comic book and video game-themed origins. The original graphic novel, which just had its final volume released, tells the very Toronto-specific story of a 22-year-old slacker and bassist Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) who falls in love with Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) but must defeat her seven evil exes in order to be her boyfriend.

Wright's filmmaking style pulses with energy, flair and wit. He gets almost everything right. He completely captures a sense of Toronto's geography and the locations from the novel. The writing and acting are very good, particularly Michael Cera. Some may complain that he does this lovable nerd role too often, but it's not as easy as everyone thinks and I can't imagine anyone doing it better in this. The music too is very good, and includes Toronto bands such as Metric and Broken Social Scene.

Bryan Lee O'Malley
Aside from being so much fun, the film has a touching sweetness at its core. It is a romance too, after all. But it also has a goofy self-deprecating quality ("Wait, they make movies in Toronto?"). And his gay roommate and other gays are portrayed in a funny yet positive way.

The film has one serious flaw, however, and it's a huge one. Not enough to ruin it for me mind you, but one that simply has to be mentioned and that no one else seems to have noticed.

It totally misrepresents Toronto as a white-only city with the occasional Asian girl.

Toronto is one of (if not the) most multicultural cities in the world. Anyone who knows Toronto will hardly recognize that aspect of the city in this movie. About half of the city does not list English as their first language, including myself. It has many ethnic neighbourhoods, such as Koreatown just adjacent to the Bathurst/Bloor corner where much of the story takes place. The author Bryan Lee O'Malley himself is half-Chinese. The graphic novels are drawn in a manga style that led a friend of mine to assume that they were pretty much all Asian characters.

Yet the film has only one real Asian character, Knives Chau (Ellen Chau). Others turn up once in a while, but they don't have any lines. Yes, there's the first evil ex Matthew Patel (South Asian). He wasn't a character from Toronto though, but rather met Ramona in a small town. Even then, he was cast with the light-skinned Satya Bhabha, who is half-German. Two others of the evil exes are Japanese, but don't say a single word. Another evil ex Lucas Lee probably should have been Asian, but is played by Chris Evans and given slightly Asian features [UPDATE: I've been told that the character Lucas Lee is actually in fact loosely based on Jason Lee]

The whitewashed cast and the Asian girl
You can forget about any other of Toronto's many races. In this film's Toronto, they simply don't exist.

This is a terrible shame. Wright did the wise thing in getting some Asian musicians to appear on the soundtrack (Cornelius, Dan the Automator, Kid Koala) but completely dropped the ball with his onscreen representation. He obviously went out of his way to get all the details about Toronto's locations so accurate. How could he not notice one of the most unique qualities about the city's population, its diversity? It would have been literally staring him in the face when he met O'Malley and the people he describes.

But enough about that. As I said, it isn't enough to ruin the movie. It is, however, enough to prevent unqualified praise. Aside from this (major) mistake though, the movie is an exuberant and imaginative romp. It won't be for everyone -- I've heard that older audiences don't get a lot of the cultural references. But I'm not much of a gamer and haven't read the comics, and yet I very much enjoyed it. I laughed a lot and was very impressed with how well Wright translated the spirit and humour of a comic onto the screen.

1 comment:

  1. Hey David, great review. I noticed a few nonwhite faces in the party scene where Scott first tries to chat up Ramona, and in some of the club scenes but they were fleeting at best. O'Malley's books feel a bit more multicultural to me, but maybe it's because that medium allows us to see background characters for longer.