Scott Pilgrim vs. The Box Office

Scott Pilgrim movie posterIn case you were wondering: he failed miserably. Scott Pilgrim can defeat his girlfriend’s seven evil exes, but can’t win out over two movies catered pitch perfectly to their demographics.

Imagine my deflation when I purchased a ticket to Scott Pilgrim vs. The World and was informed by the asshole at the box office (his comment: Michael Cera sucks) that there were only 8 other people in the theatre. At 9:50pm on a sweltering Friday evening in Portland, Oregon, when escaping from your probably non-Air Conditioned house seems like the best of all possible solutions. It was such a depressing end to what had been a three-week obsession (including purchasing and reading the first book) and several near misses of seeing it for free.

It’s a good thing we didn’t. It’s a good thing we decided to show up with our wallets intact to make a statement about how excited we were for this movie to be released.

Because it looks like everyone else missed the bus. I’m not going to soap-box or diatribe about The Expendables. I really have little to no interest in seeing the film. I would much rather re-watch an awesome 80s movie (and do, at fairly regular intervals).  You could easily argue that Eat, Pray, Love also dealt a large blow to the wounded and flailing comic book movie adaptation because it was, like Expendables, marketed heavily to a particular demographic.

Scott Pilgrim fell very much in the middle. It’s a retro adaptation of an independent comic book published by Portland based Oni Press and written by Canadian Bryan Lee O’Malley. It’s a strange beast – all kinds of nichey – so much so that I’m not sure who the intended demographic really is. Sure, it features lots of video game and rock references, but it certainly doesn’t feel like “my” movie.

WHOSE MOVIE IS THIS?

It felt like a movie that I might have connected with more in my early 20s, than a film that resonates with me at 28 – married with a mortgage and career.

The lazy and misbegotten foibles of youth are not so much my standard movie fare these days. Is it wrong that I rewatch Reality Bites and wish that Winona had given Ben Stiller another shot? What’s so magical and mysterious and cool about the loser guy who leeches off his friends and makes a career out of being selfish and aloof?

After reading the first book, I’m not sure Scott Pilgrim is a character that I really actually LIKE. Michael Cera is also a questionable actor. He seems a bit lost in his own personality, and his waif-thin-sinnewy arms strumming on the guitar were distracting and disconcerting. I think Scott Pilgrim could have achieved more success without Cera. His glory days of bringing frat boys to the party are quite over, I’m afraid. He’ll need to adopt a new schtick to win over the masses.

In fact – who isn’t tired of loser-esque comedy dudes at the moment? It’s hard to make that seem sexy in a climate of depression/recession.

In the grand scheme of characters – I like Knives Chau. She was the only character who really had an emotional vulnerability or likable qualities. Ramona was so distant and ethereal…I guess the rather unlikable characters of Scott and Ramona probably deserve each other, but there is a certain Knives wish-fulfillment I was aching for. She seems the most-fucked-with of the whole group, but probably the most emotionally stable and best able to bounce back and carry on with her life.

WHAT I DID LIKE

The music! It’s a feeling similar to watching Eclipse earlier this summer in that I left the theatre thinking “the adaptation was faithful, but I can’t wait to get my hands on the soundtrack!”

While Scott Pilgrim is losing the battle at the box office – it’s winning the music war on iTunes – currently ranked as the #1 Soundtrack.

And yes, I’ve been bumping it all weekend. The “Sex Bob-omb” tracks are especially catchy. Even the original score is worth downloading, and it sort of put all the whizbang video game references into perspective. But my ultimate favorite is “Black Sheep” by this group called Metric. New favorite group? Maybe so.

Also – a stellar cast featuring just as many mens as womens. Although, most of the chicks spent their time talking to or about the main character, Scott Pilgrim. No Bechdel moments here, but it featured more than a token woman or person of color. So, yay?

Pretty much every female was a win for me – Mary Elizabeth Winstead was perfect – she had the right amount of bulging cartoon eyes and dead-pan to carry off her role. Ellen Wong was brilliant as Knives Chau and, as with the book, really felt like the heart and soul of the film.

ADAPTATIONS…IN GENERAL

Having spent the last six months or so devoting huge chunks of my time and energy into watching book-to-film adaptations…I would have to say that Scott Pilgrim is probably my favorite adaptation in the aforementioned time period. I say this – having only read one of the six books from which it’s been adapted. But at the same time, a film is a different medium than a book. It requires a whole other set of senses and skill.

The movie fell together just as the book fell together for me. There was some magical element that kept me watching/turning the pages. The young cast was gorgeous to look at and filled with excellent comedic timing. It was visually quite stunning and the soundtrack was electrifying.

The emotional bits rang hollow for me…but that may have to do more with disliking my own early 20s. Dan made a strong point in our discussion of the film, when he said it captures a lot of what that time period is like – the emotional turbulence, making stupid regretful mistakes, learning who you are, discovering that being “cool” isn’t always worth the personal costs, etc.

I kept gravitating towards the metaphor of defeating evil exes in order for a relationship to really be at peace. It used that over-the-top anime vibe and explored the idea of how we let our past loves shape our current relationships. But that aspect sort of fell away in all the action and music, and it seemed most of the time about being witty and cool. Which it was.

It positively stunk of cult-hit, which is just about right for this franchise. I wouldn’t expect that insanely large masses would gravitate towards a film adaptation of an independent comic book in the same way that they would gravitate towards a best-selling book adaptation or an 80s action flick parody. So in this particular instance, Expendables and Eat, Pray, Love were always going to be a KO.

Bechdel Test: Scott Pilgrim features several female characters but does NOT pass the women test, does PASS the men test and features more than two minority characters with names and speaking parts, but DOES NOT PASS the race test.

LINK LOVE

EW Rates the Box Office Rumble

Comic Book Movie Reviews “Scott Pilgrim”

NPR chimes in about the Pilgrim Audience Back-Lash

But, this guy hated it

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About tinyheroes

Mindy Crouchley is a 33 year old woman with a degree in English and Technical Writing from Portland State University. She has accumulated three+ years experience in the Marketing and Communications field - with an emphasis on creating digital media content. She has been reading comic books since she was 10 years old. She currently lives in outer southeast Portland with her spouse Dan Robertson, her baby girl, and their dog - Jabba the pug. She spends her free time devouring books, crafting cosplay, video gaming, attending comic cons, writing stories/screenplays, attending book to film adaptation club meetings, volunteering, and watching copious amounts of TV and movies.

19 responses to “Scott Pilgrim vs. The Box Office”

  1. Sweet Paul says :

    Well written, as usual. Is the problem that people don’t like or are tired of hipster wusses? Just a thought.

    • tinyheroes says :

      I think people are tired of Michael Cera and loser boyfriends. I think Cera should move on to something dramatic – he seems to have the chops. Playing that Michael Scott kid for the rest of his life is creepy. It’s like watching a 12 year old boy.

      And a crap ton of people have never heard of the Scott Pilgrim comic book series, so have no idea that it’s not a Michael Cera vehicle, but something else entirely. Which sucks for the film.

  2. Sweet Paul says :

    Also, kneel before Zod, whose chosen earth name is Stallone.

  3. Addie says :

    I’ve been thinking about the demographic thing a lot. I think it takes some serious marketing if you’re turning an indie comic into a film versus a well-established franchise, and I suspect our interpretation of that marketing may have been compromised a bit by our Comic Con attendance.

    Now that I am reading the books the characters strike me as very similar to a lot of the comedies that are popular with people of our age group these days – like Arrested Development and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. They present stories about amoral individuals who aren’t particularly likable, adults who are far past the point where they should have grown up. Their dysfunction and idiosyncracies are what endear you to them, but that doesn’t mean you’d be friends with them in real life.

    This sort of “amoral comedy” seems to be emerging as a symptom of our time and culture (one of my favorite authors, Douglas Coupland, has captured it really well in his most recent books). I typically find it hilarious, and I think part of the pleasure is the escapism of it, getting to enjoy the escapades of loathsome individuals without paying personal consequences. I think this could grate more during the recession for sure, but to a degree I can see increased appeal in watching others behave irresponsibly when we ourselves don’t have that flexibility.

    So I think this stuff has an audience. I just don’t know how big or wide that audience is. I also think this kind of product is kind of difficult to market – after all, Arrested Development got cancelled; Always Sunny is on a cable network. Most of the other examples that come to mind have smaller distribution. They tend to develop a cult following, as you said; I’m hoping that this movie builds that momentum and ends up being a success in the long run.

    I get frustrated thinking about how the movie industry works versus the type of content I actually want to see. I want to see something like this because it is visually captivating and different. And now I also want to see it because I adore the books. I really could care less that it’s a Michael Cera vehicle. I kind of tire of the strategy of tethering a film to its star, but I get it: actors and actresses inspire a lot of unjustified strong emotions in people, enough to inspire them to see a film they wouldn’t have otherwise. That said, I wouldn’t knock a cast of relative unknowns, and it would have taken away from the “I’m sick of Michael Cera” vibe. I’m trying to think of someone who might have been a better SP fit than him (having not seen the movie yet), and nobody immediately comes to mind, but I’m sure someone probably could have pulled it off better, because yeah, him doing his typical role isn’t quite the right match.

    I hate seeing the film industry getting the message that innovative stuff with fresh faces and not necessarily made to a particular demographic is too risky and rarely pays off, that the same derivative bullshit is their key to success. It’s insane that such a creative medium limits so much of its potential because the blockbuster or genre formula is a safer bet. And I’m frustrated with audiences for continuing to support the derivative formula stuff instead of more creative efforts. Those same people are probably voting Republican this fall too, so I’ll just be running in circles trying to understand them in either respect 🙂

    • tinyheroes says :

      This might be in line with your point, or it might be totally random, but I started watching an episode of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” and despite loathing most of the characters – I could not stop watching it. It was freaking hilarious!

      And it was directed by Fred Savage. I have a strange inclination towards things directed by Fred Savage. On a note related totally to Fred Savage – You should check out “Party Down” on Netflix – it’s a cable network show that only aired for two seasons, and I think it was on Showtime or something. Anywho – it has a similar vibe to Arrested Development.

      Also: Fred Savage.

      • Addie says :

        Along the same vibe for me is Strangers With Candy. Absolutely brilliant show that plays along the same lines – loathsome and oblivious characters being played for humor, but in the form of an utterly twisted back-to-school special. Groundbreaking for its time since that is becoming a far more common format now 😉

        I agree though – Sunny is totally a riot. Which ep did you watch?

  4. Addie says :

    ALSO, Bechdel test: I think this is one of the cases where its failing makes sense within the context. One of the points that the Bechdel test for men makes is that men get the chance to talk about more substantive things than women do when it comes to film. For the most part, the men and women of this franchise all have equally vapid conversations, mostly about relationships. I am disappointed to hear that the wee bit of substance that did slip through went to the men. It seems about equally distributed in the books, but mostly missing altogether.

    I am really cheered by the large number of female characters, as you mentioned, and also the large number of gay characters. I really like that Scott’s initial living situation (tiny apartment, sharing a bed with his gay roommate) is not presented with the typical squeamishness and homophobia that has come to be expected in our culture. Scott’s discomfort with his roommate’s love life seems about equal to the discomfort most people would have with any roommate’s sex life. That’s really cool and I’m wondering how the movie addressed that, if at all – I worry it took the lower road by either avoiding that setup or trying to get “wink wink, nudge nudge” about it.

    • tinyheroes says :

      Actually – now that you mention the Bechdel Test, Scott Pilgrim just barely meets the male requirement. I think there’s a conversation about Veganism, and maybe one about the room-mate kicking Scott out that makes it pass (which should make you happy). For the most part – everyone is talking about Scott Pilgrim and his relationships. EVERYONE. And most of the dudes DO talk about Ramona Flowers or Knives Chau, as well.

      As for the gay characters – Wallace is done well. No winking or nudging about them sleeping together – and no real exceptionalism. Wallace is a bit of a man whore, and I’m not entirely comfortable with how they depicted the lesbian character Roxy. I can’t really compare that to the books, not having read that far. She was certainly pretty fucking awesome. And there was also a great bit about how Scott couldn’t hit a girl, so Ramona Flowers has to step in to battle her. I feel pretty ambivalent.

      • Addie says :

        Sounds like better representation than the Asian characters got. I am disappointed to read that they had to throw in some stereotypes that were non-existent in the books:

        http://www.racialicious.com/2010/08/17/knives-chau-vs-bad-character-development/

        I can totally see the people making the movie saying “He’s Indian! Let’s do it Bollywood-style, that will be fun! Everybody loves Bollywood-style!” without realizing that it’s kind of a dick move. Similarly with the twins.

        As a result I was kind of expecting “He has a gay roommate! Let’s create all sorts of funny awkwardness!” to be a similar “easy grab”. Glad they got something right.

        It’s very weird though – the comic is jam-packed with gay men (most of Scott’s male friends are gay) and yet the lesbian representation is pretty bad. I don’t think Roxy gets very good treatment in the comic either, although Scott does actually fight with her after she calls him on his refusal to fight with a girl. The frustrating thing is that she is crazy easy to defeat, all hot rage with no actual substance. She was by far the easiest win for Scott IMHO, although also the biggest thorn in the relationship of all the exes (Ramona goes out to eat with Roxy and Roxy stays at Ramona’s place overnight, implying some sort of reconnection.)

        I’ve also heard people criticize Ramona writing off the female ex as “just a phase”, which is once again one of those “easy” tropes to throw into a film for people with no legitimate sense of humor. Except it’s also in the book. The thing is, a lot of new research is showing that female sexuality is extremely fluid and far less rigid than male sexuality, so “just a phase” isn’t necessarily an inaccurate term to describe a normally hetero woman being legitimately attracted to a woman at some point in her life but not necessarily identifying as bisexual or lesbian. That said, it’s not a very flattering term; it makes that relationship seem less legitimate than the others, when the book seemed to show that it was quite real.

        • tinyheroes says :

          Exactly – I think that’s the ugh factor with the depiction – is that it makes Ramona’s attraction seem entirely based on sex and experimentation, rather than a legitimate relationship.

          I would say, from your description of their interaction in the book, it gives them a little more wiggle room.

          And the stereotyping of all the Asian characters in the film is a little strange, given that the author of the comic book series is bi-racial. He was on the panel at Comic Con and looking very Asian. But part of his last name is O’Malley.

          Which always makes me think of the “O’Malley, the Alley Cat” song.

          Thanks for the Racialicious link btw – I’ll be sure to add it to tomorrow’s Link Love entry.

          • tinyheroes says :

            OK – O’Malley is Korean and French-Canadian. http://www.asianamericancomics.com/creators/bryan-lee-omalley/

          • Addie says :

            I have been noshing on a few discussions along this vein, in particular with gender representation in the film.

            THIS manages to summarize the message behind Scott Pilgrim and how it managed to actually say some beautiful and scathing things about the characters it represents using its delightful format. It sort of boiled down why I loved it so much into a perfect summary: http://www.cinematical.com/2010/08/16/girls-on-film-is-scott-pilgrim-misogynistic/

            This one inspired that above post but is a lot more critical of gender representation in the film. I think the people who disagree with her on this also do have a point versus being full-on mansplaining or derailing. Commenters also discuss how the film manages to take a lot of the things that Scott Pilgrim does that are wonderful and subversive and turn them inside out so the movie is playing out the exact role the comic itself is trying to criticize. Oh Hollywood, your need to introduce your tropes makes everything so sucky! http://wrongquestions.blogspot.com/2010/08/scott-pilgrim-vs-world.html

            You are right about the fanpeople, they are very passionate. Watching them defend the books in such concise and interesting terms is really helping my thoughts after finishing the series gel together.

            And the Runaways link – it’s such an utter fail in so many directions. Why the hell would you make a movie about something that was successful in large part because it did unconventional things with its characters (minorities as the leaders, the gorgeous blonde being a lesbian, the relationship between Gert and Chase) and then strip it of what makes it special. If you start by whitewashing Nico, what’s next? I do hope someone on the creative team gets a clue and steers things in the right direction.

  5. Addie says :

    Forgot to throw this in as a bonus! The Runaways white-washing has begun:

    http://www.racialicious.com/2010/08/06/race-comics-how-open-is-marvels-runaways-casting-call/

  6. jim says :

    this is awesome man

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