So… Scott Pilgrim.
Yes, I’ve been putting this review off for a while, and I think I’m better for it. I doubt you’d like to have heard me gush like an excitable 15 year old schoolgirl page after page, so I decided to give this review a little time to mellow and for all of the impurities to float to the surface, so to speak. Also, I wanted to make sure I had enough time to properly organize my thoughts and put together a review, or an article, that was truly worthy of this film. Just a few pages of spluttering in ecstasy or thinly-veiled potshots at actors I don’t like weren’t going to cut it this time, I wanted to do an actual review! And here it is.
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is my favorite movie of 2010. It’s possibly my favorite movie of all time. I can’t see another film coming out in the next three months that will do what this film did… I don’t even see one coming close. The direction is perfect, the editing is gorgeous, the characters are sublime, and it’s really the best book-to-movie transition (with necessary cuts) I’ve ever seen, after I immediately went out and tore through the books like a ravenous wolverine the night/early morning after seeing a 10PM showing. The books are even better, if you can believe that, and the simple art style hides some of the best humanistic writing I’ve read in my entire life. Sure, it’s not a perfect translation, but it stands on its own as a damn fine, entertaining, and interesting movie the likes of which you don’t normally see in the American cinema. Let’s face it, we put out a lot of one trick ponies as far as movies go. Pretty much everything that was changed was changed for a good reason, and some of the changes are actually funnier than the books. If you turned it away because it was based on a comic book, shame on you. If you thought it was just another bit of hipster garbage, I can understand. If you didn’t see the movie simply because Michael Cera was in it, that’s a terrible reason to do anything. This movie, despite what the box office would tell you, is an instant classic and a brilliant piece of cinema, and its unremarkable monetary performance is just more proof that America is on the downward slide. The movie is fantastic, and even its flaws seem to make it better somehow because, at the heart of the matter, it’s not so much WHAT this movie is, it’s THAT this movie is.
Yes, get a comfy seat, kids, because this is going to be another long one. It’s time for another one of my "stories-that-masquerade-as-a-movie-review" segments. Just let me dust off the soapbox here…
Nah, I don’t need the soapbox QUITE yet. I’m thinking more like…
Now, I’d have to say it all started around 1997. A little show called "South Park" was first introduced to me by one Mitchell Johnson on the seventh-grade schoolyard. Suddenly, every last one of us had to see this show, in a move that would later be deliciously parodied in the South Park movie. The crowning achievement was when I was gifted a South Park t-shirt, featuring the now immortal line of my young generation, "Oh my God, they killed Kenny!" I was thrilled. However, as the years went on, I started seeing more and more people wearing these shirts, and other shirts, that they had never even thought of wearing before. These were popular people, and they were wearing shirts that were, dare I say… geeky? Shirts for TV shows, shirts with sassy sayings, the kinds of shirts that had been the solitary possession of friendless nerds for decades, and usually homemade. Suddenly, the "cool" kids were eschewing their former portion of sports-themed apparel and switching to the clothes that had made us outcasts for years. In fact, outside of the geek world, such themed T-shirt were the domain of, well, little kids. Suddenly, it was like our weird way of life was getting merged into the mainstream. Oh, happy day, my friends and I thought. Soon, we will be able to discuss the second quest of Zelda with our former tormentors, and we could all sing the theme song to Chip n Dale Rescue Rangers under a golden sun, turning our formerly pale skin and healthy brown as we finally were unafraid to join the rest of the world. Truly, this would be the dawn of a new, school-aged utopia!
But it was not.
Instead, we were still mocked and ostracized, even while the "cool" kids began playing more video games, wearing more sassy t shirts, and generally encroaching on cynicism and snark, which had been the nerd calling card for, oh, centuries, possibly milennia. Have you read some of the old Greek philosophers? Bunch of catty bitches, the lot of them. Anyway, we were fools to think that t shirts and cultural shifts would somehow give us the peace and acceptance we always dreamed of. There were still several other things to be picked on for, after all: physical appearance, devotion to schoolwork, unluckiness with the ladies, and our habits of spending cash on new video games instead of making our parents buy them for us, along with $120 shoes that were, as the French say, ass-ugly. And yet, as college loomed on the horizon, so did another new world that would finally accept us: YouTube burst on the scene in 2005, with Facebook shortly after, and it seemed as if all the world was about to go geek. T-shirts emblazoned with NES controllers and the phrase "know your roots," Music that was getting increasingly electronic in sound and nature, the turning of social culture to inside a computer, and the prominence of internet memes and wacky phrases in even the most stolid of jock and cheerleader types surely would lead us into this new millennium riding high on BraveStarr’s 30/30, reigning as Kings of the cultural zeitgeist, yea, King Geek! Finally, after a half-century of oppression, this would be it, this HAD to be it!
But it was not.
Instead, the geeks and nerds of the world found their love, their lives co-opted and turned into the newest hot fad. Just like the blacks, and the latinos, and the gays before them, and the south asians to follow soon after, Geeks had become the latest target for a parasitic exploitation by the twin demons of Hollywood and Trend. The cultural blight known as the "hipster" had its disease-ridden genesis at this time, seeking to glom onto everything geek and nerd while simultaneously dismissing it as lame, claiming that, in irony, they have somehow rose above the cultural miasma that they themselves have created. The social scene of the times was a muddled mess of Mario, Modest Mouse, and mugs of Mickey’s, all steeped in the putrid juices of a long stagnated and contaminated pool of irony and sarcasm. Geek culture has been invaded, pillaged, raped, and will soon be left as an empty, rotting husk for those last few true believers to inhabit and attempt to breathe life into once again. Another trend will follow, and the sheep will leave to try on denim Saris or brand name Chakra dots. The geek will not inherit the earth, as some writers who believe themselves clever would like you to believe, they will simply have to carry on in the watered-down, marginalized existence that has already crippled the cultures of countless trends that went before it. The geeksploitation will leave us, my people, our people will a lack of cultural identity, because what were were given back by trend and popular opinion will not resemble the coat of many colors were were given by the likes of Gygax, Asmiov, Hawking, and Miyamoto. The rest of the world will move on, as it often does, leaving the geeks behind to inherit a hollow life, or blindly follow along with the crowd, desperate for that brief, shining moment of cultural relevancy and foolishly holding to the belief that it will come again.
But we will not.
Let me bust this bad boy out again…
Let me tell you something about geeks. We spent the better part of the last sixty years being openly mocked and culturally tortured. We, the true geeks, will not depart our homes. We will rebuild, and we will wind up being the ones who herd the sheep. Four words: Bill, Steve, Gates, Jobs. You’re not going to kill the true geeks, just as you didn’t kill the previous cultures, or at least the small minority in those cultures that had a solid identity to begin with. Yes, we’re riding the cultural cusp now, but when it all falls apart, we’ll still be reading geek blogs, watching anime, and gasping breathlessly about our last Halo deathmatch long after they have gone out of style. We’re going to keep talking about how great Star Wars is, we’re going to love us some action figures, and we’re still going to have pride long after the hipsters learn to pull up their damn pants and go to work at some dreary office. We have pride, the true believers, we will not be put down and silenced. The boot of culture will try to crush us in their quest to tramp everything down into a uniform and "cool" social-group-of-the-moment, but we will spring right back up when that boot moves on, waving aloft our lightsabers and screaming "we’re here, we’re queer, get used to it!" in the original Klingon. We’re used to be mocked and left alone, and the true geeks, the real nerds, the ultimate losers cannot WAIT until you all leave us the fuck alone. You can even start picking on us again, but get out of our house, get off our LAN, and cough up those d20s. You haven’t earned it.
I’ll admit, when I first saw the trailer for Scott Pilgrim, I groaned. "Typical hipster garbage," I thought, with the overuse of the word "epic" in the trailer, prevalence of skinny jeans, and apparently token nods to the current buzz of "vidja gaymes r kewl, brah" culture. I was fully ready to write it off with other co-opted triumphs like "the Big Bang Theory" or committee designed garbage appeals to the fake nerds like "Juno." It looked like just another cash-grab by a billion dollar studio and a trillion dollar industry to insult my people like holding a poison-laced bit of cheese in front of a lab rat. You can take your fake nerds, I’ll stick to my real nerds, the guys who bankrupt themselves to put out videos to appeal to me and my people who do agree that the original TMNT NES game was a crime against our youth, and that Seth McFarlane is the penultimate blood-traitor of all geek-kind. I’m nowhere near an Alpha Geek. Hell, I played football in high school! But I am proud of my people (and yes, if Hollywood wants to do what they’re doing, then we are a PEOPLE) and I will gladly take part in the uprising to take back what it ours. And so, when I saw one afternoon on one of my favorite geek news sites, Topless Robot, that Scott Pilgrim had "bob-ombed" at the box office, I was stunned.
How could that have happened? I thought. This movie was carefully crafted to appeal to everything those worthless little hipster fucks would want to see in a movie, right? This was just another cash grab, another Diablo Cody nonsense-fest that the swoopy-haired gobshites would pretend was deep, right? It was marketed right at fake nerds, who outnumber real nerds almost 3 to 1…so how did it fail? Then, one by one, I started watching reviews from my respected geek correspondents: Spoony, Angry Joe, even the Distressed Watcher, whom I often find very annoying, put out a very interesting video, all of them urging a mustering of the real nerds, the true geeks, to see this movie. I’d never seen such a grass roots appeal for a Hollywood movie from the geek culture, so I started doing a little research. I read up on the books, and I started watching all the trailers, which is where I saw all the proof I needed to give my money to this movie: Edgar Wright. Mr. Hot Fuzz, which was, by and large, my movie of 2007 and another one of my favorite movies of all time. In fact, the Nostalgia Critic even picked it as his favorite comedy. Mr. Wright has a golden touch when it comes to making movies I will LOVE, and I had enough faith in him after Hot Fuzz that I managed to goad three friends into seeing a late Sunday night showing of Scott Pilgrim, even going so far as to take Luv directly from work to the theater down the road. I felt it was my duty to spread the gospel that had been spread to me, and my friends, true nerds all, including my lovely wife-to-be, were not disappointed.
The line has been drawn in the sand with Scott Pilgrim: it typifies everything a geek would love and a nerd would understand, and everything the fakers would know nothing about. So they find some way to say it’s bad: Michael Cera, bland protagonists, confusing story, rushed plot, anything to assure themselves that they didn’t miss the point entirely… but they did. The simple truth of the matter is that Edgar Wright made this movie for us, the true nerds, who have had to deal with almost everything that this movie has to offer. The woman I’m marrying in three weeks had a cadre of men around her who adored her, and I did have to cut through them like Mr. Pilgrim cut through Ramona’s "evil exes." I have had a Knives Chau, a young-looking little thing who thought we were "an item" after one date and was harder to shake than a limpet. I have had, and have been, the sagacious friend who is just as likely to offer the right advice as he is to refuse wearing pants in the apartment. I will not get into spoiler territory here, but the ending of the film (which differs from the ending of the book much like 2001: A Space Odyssey did as it, too, was still being written at filming) comes across with so much reality to me that it brought tears to my eyes, even though there was absolutely nothing on the screen that would have, should have done so. Edgar Wright made a movie for me, for us, for the real geeks of the world, and the fact that it bombed at the box office is only proof positive that we are still a minority, we are still the true inheritors of the geek realm. This is not geeksploitation, this is a rare ascendance of one of our own to buck the system and make a true geek tribute that, in a completely un-pretentious way, the rest of you simply will not get it. How can I say that unpretentiously? Simple, by saying it while my Haruhi Suzumiya standee looks on, wagging a finger reproachfully. We are geeks, we are lame, and by design we are unpretentious… but we are also still proud.
Thank you, Mr. Wright. More than anything else, your movie (and the sad/happy performance it had at the box office) has shown me that I don’t have to be ashamed anymore. I was allowing myself to be put neath the boot, I was making excuses for my love of anime or cartoons or video games. I was even ashamed to talk about them in public. I was ashamed of who I was. I thought geek was dead, truly. I thought the hipsters and Hollywood had gutted it beyond repair. I thought that, by saying I beat Zelda on my first go in 1992, I was somehow going to be lumped in with an entire generation of useless stains on the fabric of our cultural bedspread. Yet, because this movie failed, it shows me that the geek is still alive, and still vocal in the vision of men like Edgar Wright and the words of Bryan Lee O’Malley. No, you won’t get it, you won’t spend money to see it, but we will, and we will be proud of it. We won’t shut up about it, because after years of being mired in a quicksand of trucker hats and pre-stressed clothing, a shining, alabaster tower has risen above for us to climb and claim as our own, sticking at its summit the flag of the true geek. Rejoice, my brethren, for we are still young, we are still strong. We don’t care if we belong or not, and we revel in the fact that we are not cool. We are still free, never shackled by society or the rule of cool, and we will continue to be bloodied and beaten for who we are, because we are proud to be who we were. We are the ones who will change the world, we are the ones who will make this next generation better, and you will never understand us, so you will fear us and try to drive us down. But the one thing you should realize, you fools and charlatans, is that you can’t ever drive a nerd or a geek too far down. When you throw us into the basement, we’re right at home.
Until we meet again, I tenderly remain,
Play me off, Mika!