Edgar Wright’s third film confirms him as a director of real talent who is able to balance blockbuster effects with indie wit and style. ‘Shaun Of The Dead‘ and ‘Hot Fuzz‘ were both ambitious projects which managed to lampoon their genres – the zombie flick and cop thriller respectively – while still delivering the goods audiences expect from straight-up horror and action films. Here he takes a popular series of manga-inspired graphic novel books and turns them into a love letter to all things nerdy – from 16-bit videogames to bad indie rock, the sadder you are, the more you are likely to get from this film. And I mean that in the best possible way.
Michael Cera plays the titular hero, his usual mopey emo kid juggling half-hearted musical ambition with the sort of teenage yearning that either makes you warm to characters like these or want to slap them upside the head. Just as well then that there’s plenty of the latter activity in between his attempts to win over the latest love of his life; new flame Ramona just so happens to have a coalition of seven evil ex-boyfriends, lining up to take Scott down.
The film has been touted as a musical with “fights instead of songs”: it would be more accurate to describe it as a musical with fights as well as songs, since the use of both original and recognisable music is essential to the story. You don’t have to have knowledge of, say, Frank Black’s first solo album or the fairy cave in ‘Legend Of Zelda: Link To The Past’ to enjoy the film, but rest assured you’ll be smiling from ear to ear if these things do mean something to you.
The battles which power the story are presented as videogames populated by live-action manga characters; pixellated points flash on screen, defeated enemies drop coins, while special powers unique to each enemy force Pilgrim to adopt new strategies. It’s this last aspect that stops the fights descending into repetitive displays of style over substance – each of the exes has individual characteristics which our hero must figure out how to defend against and use to his ultimate advantage. This also allows Wright to poke fun at modern life, with some surprisingly un-PC humour wielded mercilessly (Brandon Routh’s staunch vegan / rival bassist and Ramona’s lesbian ex from a bi-curious fling are particularly smart and funny). No-one is safe: actors, hipsters, groupies and gay guys are all sent up in crowd-pleasing fashion, with everyone from Chris Evans to Kieran Culkin and a delightfully smarmy Jason Schwartzman taking delight in the chance to steal scenes left, right and centre.
This is where the film is let down a little – it’s not exactly hard to steal scenes when the lead couple are such miserabilist clichés. In a film stuffed full of caricatures, it is unfortunate that the two at its centre aren’t a little more likeable. Michael Cera is funnier than he usually is, but this may be down to the razor-sharp editing and witty script – for the most part his self-effacing act is long past its sell-by date. It’s hard to see what anyone around his character sees in him – whether it’s his driven but naive bandmates or his over-enthusiastic still-at-school girlfriend, their attraction and devotion to this drip of a boy can be hard to swallow. Similarly, Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s Ramona is a typically one-note flighty goth chick, whose lofty attitude and inability to crack a smile makes her appeal hard to fathom, no matter how unobtainable and alternative she appears (oh, look, she’s changed her hair colour again!).
Overall, the film is such a resounding success due to Wright. The story is necessarily pretty basic, but what other directors might have seen as an excuse for nothing but expensive displays of cartoony CGI, Wright has seen as an excuse to embrace his (and our) inner geek with childish abandon. The fun (not to mention the difficulty) he’s obviously had in making the film is all on screen for the audience to see; it is both nostalgic and cutting-edge, something simple that everyone can relate to and a bit deeper and more perceptive than it probably has any right to be. Some of the sentiment isn’t completely convincing – Scott learns lessons but still comes across as a bit of a dick who probably doesn’t deserve the benevolence he’s shown – but the film is a blast from start to finish, an indulgent joy for everyone who’s ever pined for the girl or boy they can’t have and got lost in the day-glo world of videogames to escape from that drab reality. And that’s all of us, right?
For more information visit the official website.