Scott Pilgrim vs The World

ALEX: {7} Years of Manic Pixie Dream Girls

[You have selected: Alex Spencer] Okay, folks, we’re going on a journey here. It’s not going to be quick and it’s not going to be easy. But this is probably one of the most in-depth, heartfelt things I’ve ever written for this site. Hey, you might even learn something! …And if that doesn’t entice you, I promise you’ll get to see at least one of these lovely ladies’ crotches by the time we’re through. “The Manic Pixie Dream Girl exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures. The Manic Pixie Dream Girl is an all-or-nothing-proposition.” -Nathan Rabin, The Bataan Death March of Whimsy {2010}Ramona Flowers Ever-changing hair-colour Funny name Kickass fighting moves Rabin coined the term Manic Pixie Dream Girl at the beginning of 2007, in relation to Kirsten Dunst’s character in a film made in 2005 (Elizabethtown). Like any phrase-coining, this was already a bit after the event: even by 2005, the M.P.D.G. had started to irreversibly infect 21st Century pop-culture. So we begin, quirky as the Pixie Girl herself, at the end. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is the most recently-released film I’ve seen in dialogue with the M.P.D.G.. Ramona Flowers is a Bad Girl With A Dark History And, like, Complex Emotions. But as many hair colours as the hipster rainbow. Ramona is Scott Pilgrim’s dream-girl, and she pulls him by the hand into a mysterious new world. In the interests of fairness, it has to be said that hanging the M.P.D.G. sandwich-board around her neck is to do some disservice to Edgar Wright’s film and, especially, Bryan Lee O’Malley’s original comic version, which ran (from 2004 to 2010) alongside the development of this phenomenon, spends a lot of its later volumes unpicking these idealised notions. Any M.P.D.G.-ness is projected onto her by Scott’s skewed worldview. She emphatically doesn’t like the same music, and is hardly the ball of energy you’d expect from a straight-up example of the trope. O’Malley’s Ramona is at least partly a deconstruction of the M.P.D.G.; Wright’s Ramona is a bit more of an embrace. The film follows the narrative arc of Rabin’s definition perfectly: movie-Scott has more Serious Brooding Young Man (S.B.Y.M. being the inevitable mirror-image and result of M.P.D.G.) about him, and in either version, Ramona leads to him discovering the wider world. With kung-fu! Ramona is the Manic Pixie Dream Girl that men decided was a Manic Pixie. The Girl they decided you’ve got to fight for to win. But those men were all Evil, right? {2009}Summer Finn Encyclopaedic knowledge of indie-rock Dresses like she fell through a vintage shop is played by Zooey Deschanel Summer, meanwhile, is the kind of girl you lose by fighting. {500} Days of Summer is by far at its weakest (and it is half-really-good and half-really-rubbish) as Summer ticks off the M.P.D.G. boxes. The magic begins when she says she likes The Smiths. The Smiths! And Belle & Sebastian. An unusual taste in Beatles records. She has, like, the quirkiest apartment! And before you know it, our hero is throwing himself into life with a new vigour… At its best, the film makes a consistent argument for tearing the archetype apart. The key, best scene contrasts ‘Expectations’ and ‘Reality’, pitching the hopes of that brooding young man against reality. For a couple of minutes, it rails against the whole misguided fantasy of Tom and every other sensitive music-loving guy with a fringe he stands for. It’s one of the times the film rings really, really true, and it provides the only moment that drove that great big icicle into my heart. …But most of the time it doesn’t do that thing. {500} Days of Summer warns you from the start that this isn’t your standard-issue love story, but its targets are too scattered to mean that the film approaches any convincing realism or scathing satire. Most of the time, it just attacks the classic Hollywood romcom. And that’s hardly new: right here we’ve got a history of alt-romcoms in the early 21st Century. Which have developed their own conventions and though the film makes occasional warning shots in this direction, it doesn’t have the conviction – or, to be fair, the time – to subvert these conventions. And so we get the most straight-down-the-line M.P.G.D. of recent years. And she is hateful. Summer as she exists in this film – and it’s probably important to note that it is The Boy’s film – is pure Expectations. Maybe that’s all within the film’s intention: when those expectations are broken, hearts are too. But she’s also an absolute wank-fantasy of a girl. And so, if you’re me, you spend a lot of time sighing and wondering if this is really the only female character this kind of lifestyle produces: you know, drunk karaoke, quirky traditions, indie records and good films. Is this the only kind of girl boys with a great collection of band t-shirts can fancy? {2007}Juno MacGuff Speaks in pop-culture references Owns a hamburger-phone Pregnant …Because who doesn’t fancy Juno? Okay, she’s not a true M.P.D.G. in that she doesn’t take her boy on a journey of infinite wonderful discovery. Which is mostly because: this isn’t Paulie Bleeker’s film, it’s Juno’s – clue’s in the title, dummy – and so she gets to control the viewpoint. It’s possible that an entirely hypothetical other film exists within this one, where we see it from Bleeker’s viewpoint and Juno is that girl. But that doesn’t matter too much, because I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that as the trope has grown and seeped into reality, the cloud of traits around the M.P.D.G. begins to condense into solid totems, around which a generation of girls lay tribute. M.P.D.G. isn’t just a stock character anymore, it’s a series of tics and signifiers. It’s a lifestyle you can choose. And if they’re doing that because it’s them, or they’re […]

Scott Pilgrimfest, Vol 2: vs The Film

LIVES: ONE So. They got this ‘Scott Pilgrim’ in cinemas now, huh? First, the pull-quote: Edgar Wright crafts a lavishly faithful adaptation and tribute to O’Malley’s seminal comics series, with a beautifully original graphic style. Okay. Stick that on your poster and smoke it. The thing is, what I think Wright actually made was a tribute to his Scott Pilgrim. Which is not necessarily your Scott Pilgrim and, relevantly, isn’t my Scott Pilgrim. What’s so great about Scott Pilgrim, the six-piece comic, is that it’s a multi-faceted work, with different hooks and points of entry for pretty much everyone. It’s a comedy, it’s a heartwrenching romance, it’s a study of the modern hipster-slacker lifestyle, it’s a formal experiment. It’s all about Scott & Ramona. It’s all about Young Neil. It’s all about Kim Pine. (Oh, it’s definitely all about Kim Pine.) Edgar Wright’s Scott Pilgrim is certainly not all about Kim Pine. In the necessary shuffling around and condensation, she gets pushed aside and barely features. None of which hurts the story, and it’s just the entitled fanboy in me expecting a carbon copy of everything I love. Except it changes the point. By pushing out Kim and Envy, the reflection of Scott’s exes with Ramona’s (and the question of who exactly is the evil ex in a relationship) is lost. The story as a meditation on dealing with your past and with your partner’s doesn’t exist. Instead, the film draws a thematic line between the the Knives/Scott/Ramona/Gideon relationships. It focuses instead on the idea of power structures in relationships, and hierarchies of who gets to treat who like crap. Maybe because it suits a single, under-two-hours version of the story better; maybe because that’s what the story is about about for Edgar Wright. Whatever. I’m honestly not sure if, ignore my own baggage of expectations and bias, if it stands alone better. It’s a valid version of the story, definitely, but I’d argue it renders the other six evil exes more or less pointless, except as flashy misdirection. And the film kind of seems to agree, speeding through everything between the two relationships. That’s at the cost of the lethargic, organic pace of the comics, where their serialised nature allows for the weird stuff to just wash over you and happen. Scenes chop into one another, mid-conversation And suddenly you’re in a desert but that doesn’t really make much sense except because it has to happen Because that’s what happens. There are chapter breaks which look lovely (as does pretty much the entire film – if nothing else, SPvTW is a stylistic triumph) but don’t really serve any purpose. Stuff gets thrown in as a tribute, or because it’s funny, but without explanation within the film itself. I have to admit that I couldn’t help but watch this film as an adaptation, though, and thus fall into a trap. A pit filled with deadly spikes. LIVES: ZERO … CONTINUE? …And like any good boss fight, the second time round, you know what’s coming. Seeing it again in almost identical conditions*, with all the expectations out of the way, it was easier to see the truth of the film. Around 80% of it is spot-on in every single detail; 10% is stuff with a weird relationship to the comic – dropping, altering or inexplicably including something – and 10% is, honestly, just a bit off. The complaints stand: it’s still not funny enough, really, to pull off the extremities of style and dialogue it attempts. The jokes that worked last time, though, are still funny, which I hadn’t expected; the jokes from the comics, mostly, still don’t. The pacing is a bit jumpy, and wasn’t just me thinking oh, this bit’s missing. The smooth fades of comic vocabulary don’t translate into cinema. There’s not really enough time to buy into the relationships: I couldn’t help but warm more to Scott/Knives than Scott/Ramona. The hits that it lands are truly triumphant, though. The thing that struck me most second time was the music. It’s brilliant, and brilliantly used, and Edgar Wright’s description of the film as a musical with punches rings really true. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is a film that work bests – often, works perfectly – when it forgets it is a film about the Scott Pilgrim comics. With slightly reworked relationships, new ideas and a different message, it takes flight. There’s a whole new focus on what it means to be the ‘nice’ one in a relationship means, and whether wanting something ‘simple’ is actually healthy in the film which I’ve never seen anywhere else, which is a fascinating intepretation of both Scott Pilgrim and an original use of the rom-com form. It’s like – to borrow the Scott Pilgrim worldview – one of Punch-Out!!‘s opponent boxers: a strong fighter, with an unmistakably exaggerated character. Unfortunately, it also comes with a large, flashing weakpoint. Attack for massive damage… GAME OVER. *Same cinema, similar time of day, rushing out of the cinema to catch a train South to the girlfriend, for those of you keeping count at home.