This film is an experience more than a presentation–so if you have that in mind going in, you may not be as overwhelmed at me as I tried to figure out a) did I like that film and b) what was that all about, really? In the end, I did like it, and after a sound sleep and some reflection on the drive to work, there were a lot of moments recalled that helped me make sense of it, as much as a woman in her mid-thirties can.
A film like this reminds me that there are a variety of reasons to make and watch audio-visuals art forms. The reason I would give for watching this one is that it stretches the imagination and challenges the artist within the bracket of popular film expectations (be it a big chunk of our persona or a small member of our psychic society of alter egoes). It’s a chance to stretch out into the possibilities of what types of expression belong together and what types don’t–because, ready or not, all the ones in this film belong according to the maker.
Okay, so, the gist. This 20 year-old guy, Scott Pilgram (Michael Cera), falls for a girl who is new in town (Ramona Flowers by Mary Elizabeth Winstead)–this is twisted by his non-blossoming relationship with a 16 year-old Chinese high schooler (Knives Chou by Ellen Wong) labeled by his friends as a recovery non-girlfriend episode. Once Pilgram gets his foot in the door with Flowers, he must first face his discomfort in dumping Chou which opens him to some not-so-divine intervention in that he must then fight Flowers’ seven evil ex-boyfriends just to be around her.
It seems straightforward enough, but you find out within minutes that this movie, your experience, is not going to be predictable, that what counts as standard is in someone else’s hands–within a minute of the film’s onset, we see people’s names and titles flashing below them, their real thoughts captioned above them, items whizzing on and off screen, the real punctured by the surreal.
Nothing new, fantasy. But the ratio, the timing of fantasy injected into reality is what makes the experience unique, not to mention that this film is shamelessly made explicitly for those in their late teens and twenties but nonetheless will prove cathartic for the older set if they’re open. It’s user friendly … the script only lightly relies on the urban dictionary for lines.
Actually, although welcomed through most of it, I felt at many points like I was the older, older set while watching this film. Maybe it was the new flatscreen on which I viewed it, or maybe it was the fact that my senses have not been dulled by relentless punk rock in over 15 years, but there were points I had to push pause and check on the laundry, just to catch a breath, calm down.
The colors, the sheer rock-out of the scenes where Pilgrim lives as a real but fantastified video game character swinging and ducking wildly … I mean, everything was like a huge kaleidescope toy to this toddler-slash-older-set audience member.
Qualify this review by labeling it “redeeming qualities” because, sadly, the film and action and the way it was woven together did much to undermine the whole effect. I needed breaks not just for laundry and settling down but also because I became a bit bored with some repetitive elements of the film. I would have had a hard time sitting in the theatre through this one I think. And I’m finding as I sit down to critically think and write about movies that there is much to be said about the editor, whether they do it right or wrong.
Also, there’s a guy-girl balance that pleases the general audience and this was tilted quite noticeably toward the guy–the fight scenes were all about 20 seconds too long and the femininity, the nuance, what could be subtle was all but absent.
Still, there were moments that when I woke up this morning struck me as useful visualizations to put in my pocket. And with all the reading I do of Zen literature, all the philosophy I stuff in my brain about compassion and self acceptance, this movie, with all of its violence and action, delivers something really deep in the end. I am not sure how many people will pick up on the intention in the beginning of the last scene, but it saved the film for me–bringing it up to seven stars out of 10 from the five I was almost going to give it.
Other noteworthy details:
Late in the game, Pilgrim pulls a flaming sword from his chest and I kinda went nuts for that moment–intelligence amidst the action; and the sword when hit by his last nemesis, Gideon Graves (by Jason Schwartzman) breaks into pieces that evaporate into little hearts=awesome!
His roommate, Wallace Wells (by Kieran Culkin), is the kind of person we all want to be–his darkness is so gratifying and cathartic, his dryness is such a relief and yet he is tender. He is gay and SO okay with it, it’s a matter-of-fact aspect of his character in the film and this is, as paradoxical as it might seem, emphasized and refreshing. I want to see him in more movies, as a character actor … because he does that one so well and it’s necessary, like a dark, thick stroke on a painting to set items apart in the midst of other visual cues.
Life is like a video game, when you think about it–the challenge is always there, but the fighting must be tamed, rechanneled … in the older souls at least. It nonetheless lives, manifest in so many ways.
This movie is one to see if you: a) are between the ages of 15 and 25 b) are able to immediately adapt your standards and process a film after the fact no matter your age c) you play or have played a lot of video games involving sparring d) you enjoy punk rock and have a penchant for things that appeal to an ADHD-based thought process e) all or any combination of the above.