MCF vs. the L.I. Universe

”Hey, mister! MISTER! Who ya textin'?”

“Shut UP, Sebastian! It's none of our business...but really, who you texting, mister?”

I just ignored the three miscreants who'd walked in to the theater, and continued scrutinizing my phone. I couldn't believe my luck. For weeks I had been trying to see Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. On one attempt, several friends from work canceled and we rescheduled for the following week. The next time we tried, I couldn't make it because I had to go to my dad's lot after work to load garbage bags into the car. Finally, there was a night when everyone could make it, but the film was no longer playing at any theater near our job. I couldn't believe it. After three weeks, though it had good buzz and positive reviews, it apparently wasn't doing well enough at the box office to stay out in theaters. No one wanted to drive in to Queens, or head out East to the one theater on Long Island where it was playing. It looked like we'd have to wait for the DVD.

I'd had a rough weekend. On Saturday night, I played a four hour stage gig at an Italian feast which wouldn't have been so bad except for the cold and the wind, which was kicking up a lot of dust. On Sunday, I spent several hours with my folks cleaning the lot some more, and by Sunday night I was wiped out. I had considered a matinee or an afternoon show, but the yard work had devoured the day. The more I read how badly the movie was doing though, the more I wanted to support it. So I summoned the energy and the impulse to head out into the night and attempt a 9:20 show. I hoped I'd stay awake on the way there. I hoped I'd stay awake through the film.

Things were looking up as I found I had the theater to myself. I figured I wouldn't have to worry about kids at such a late show, and certainly not a crowd when newer, more popular movies were playing. With 40 minutes to kill, I settled in to a nice central seat and surfed the net on my phone to pass the time. That's when the silence was broken. They sat a few rows ahead of me, jabbering away and playing games and music on their respective mobile devices. They were the worst kind of teenagers, all wanting to be the center of attention and thinking they were cool while lacking all self-awareness of what those around them perceived. A couple of girls around their age came in, followed by a couple in their 20s. One of the girls asked the three brats how old they were, and they all answered “13”. “You seem 13,” said the girl, wise for her years, while the 20-something guy with his girlfriend chuckled, “That explains it.” The trio were nonplussed, even as one explained to the others that the girl had insulted them. They took to bopping their heads to some song that, from what I could hear, was probably Jizz in My Pants. I wondered if they knew what the song was about. I wondered how three unattended 13-year-olds got to a movie theater in the middle of nowhere. I wondered when I got old enough to be called “mister”.

I found myself hating Long Island as the theater filled in. There were more kids, though more restrained than the first three. There was a father and son, and a couple of older boys who stepped out for a minute, one tapping a pack of cigarettes and asking the original three brats to watch his seat while the girls in the upper row sighed, “Finally, boys our age.” An usher came through collecting money for cancer research, though the girl at the cash register had already collected. Some of the people said they had donated at the earlier show, when the reel broke. I realized that if I'd made it to the 6:30 show, I would have been in the same boat. It explained why some of the kids were out so late, and why they had muttered something about having to “see the same crappy trailers all over again”. I had just assumed they were there to see the movie again because they liked it. I just hoped I'd be able to hear it.

Miracle of miracles, everyone quieted down when the trailers ended and the movie began. It was a little slow at first, but once dialogue gave way to rocking music and comic book stylized on-screen type sound effects, it became the film I heard it would be. I haven't read the graphic novels on which the movie was based, but the comic sensibilities were definitely there, and in a good way. Frames overlapped and the pace was amazing. There was no risk of attention deficit. Michael Cera played the title character, a hip slacker bass player in his early 20s dealing with a bad breakup by dating a high school girl. He then meets the literal girl of his dreams, Mary Elizabeth Winstead's Ramona Flowers, and falls for her. The drama comes with the revelation that, if he is to be with her, he must defeat her seven evil exes. Each ex paramour has some unique quality, and some stand out more than others, particularly Chris Evans as an over-the-top skater-turned-action-hero or Brandon Routh as a psychic-powered Vegan. You could tell those guys had a ton of fun with their roles.

Reality is swiftly discarded as elements of video games bleed over in to the real world. Is any of it really happening? Do characters die and turn into piles of coins while a score flashes in the air? Do people survive being hurled great distances? Are slackers secretly gifted martial artists? None of it really matters, because the ride is too fast and fun to ask these questions. The movie is chock-full of video game and comic book references, from the the name of Scott's band, Sex Bob-Omb, to fashion statements like the X-Men patch on his jacket or his Franklin Richards' “4 1/2” t-shirt. The “X” isn't merely ornamental, and careful viewers will notice tons of X's littered throughout the film, foreshadowing the arrival of the Exes. Even the placement of numbers is deliberate, hinting at which battle will be next.

In the end, I could best sum the unique experience up as a mashup of Mortal Kombat and Some Kind of Wonderful. Kieran Culkin stole the show several times with his observations and one-liners as Scott's sarcastic gay roommate. Jason Schwartzman made you love to hate him as Gideon, the 7th evil Ex and architect of most of Scott's misery. And in a film that could jump from Seinfeld references to Dragon Ball in a matter of minutes, there was something for everyone. If it's not the best new movie I saw this year, it's a close second, but it's unequivocally the most FUN movie I've seen. It kept the attention of the three Long Island teens I was most worried about, and indeed the entire audience, right up until the end. Not everyone stayed through the credits to be rewarded with some interesting graphic design, the full extent of Beck's musical involvement and contributions, and a nice little bonus animation at the end. It is a shame that Edgar Wright's first American film didn't do well at the box office, but I can almost guarantee that this movie will be a huge success on DVD and other home media. After all, in the world of video games, there's always a 1Up waiting to give you a second chance...


Blogger Lorna said...

I'm hoping to see this too even though I feel Michael-Cera'd-out. I'm going to choose a downtown theatre across from my favourite bar, just in case.

9/08/2010 5:35 AM  

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