I am not a thirteen year old boy. I do not read comics. Sorry. Graphic novels. I do not play video games. I am a dinosaur. Still, faced on Friday with a couple of hours to kill and choice of watching Scott Pilgrim vs. the World or Eat Pray Love, I reflexively embraced my inner middle-schooler and turned my back on Oprah’s minions, setting the estrogen fest aside for a Saturday matinee.
Summer strikes me as the perfect time for stylish twaddle, and I enjoy defying expectations. (Not enough that I’d entertain the thought of seeing the meathead offering The Expendables.) I know that I’m the target for a movie about a middle-aged woman on a quest. Hell, I’m the effing bullseye on the target. Plus Julia Roberts is a bona fide movie star, and I love looking at that divine face on the big screen every chance I get.
On the other hand, Michael Cera is a guy who gets to star in movies, lots and lots of them, for reasons that don’t quite resonate for me. A little of Cera goes a mighty long way, and a lot of him wears super duper thin. One-trick ponies amuse and even delight the first few times they go through their paces, but eventually, the audience clamors for more.
So… for this head to head, spiffy movie star Julia travels the very wide world with an open heart while iffy leading man Michael makes mortal combat and chaste love in a mostly virtual world. I wonder which will emerge victorious, the seeker or the geek.
In This Corner
I am a middle-aged woman. By rights, Oprah should be my patron saint, and I should keep a dog-eared copy of the widely-read Eat Pray Love on a bedside table somewhere. I do not. I brazenly defy such easy categorization.
But this much I know to be true: Spiritual Enlightenment aside, I wouldn’t kick Javier Bardem out of bed. Given the cold hard facts of the case, I should have expected such folly; after all, our heroine’s generic dead-end relationships with Billy Crudup and James Franco ended for inexplicably vague reasons reeking of female empowerment and feminist self-knowledge.
Yawn. Not a fan of this seeking stuff, I must admit upfront. My own midlife crisis tome would be titled: Eat Sleep Eat. Make your own jokes. I may be lost in the wilderness, but I’ve got nothing wrong with me a good loaf of bread, some ripe tomatoes, and a twenty-minute power nap won’t cure. So yeah, I’m hardly the ideal target audience for this travelogue mind-expanding extravaganza.
In That Corner
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World was clearly not (intended) for me. That said, it’s probably the best hard rock / gamer / love triangle / comic novel adaptation of this summer.
Director Edgar Wright has worked his movie magic on me twice before, taking on his native England with a lot more savvy and swash than he exhibits here in the practically-perfect-in-every-way Shaun of the Dead and the limper follow-up Hot Fuzz.
Eat Pray Love director Ryan Murphy (creator of television’s Glee) delivers it all – big movie stars and vistas, romance and spectacle, big ideas and intimate moments, yet somehow the whole enterprise falls a little flat. A souffle packed with goodness that doesn’t quite collapse but never quite rises either. It’s the summer vacation none of us can afford, and it should be a whole lot more fun in spite of all the bumper sticker wisdom doled out periodically. (Maybe, in the book, such piffle seemed profound.)
Academy Award® nominees (past and future) pepper the EPL landscape liberally. Brilliant actor Richard Jenkins has his award-winning supporting acting moment on the roof of a Calcutta ashram, and always world-weary-and-wise Viola Davis gives the solid-best-friend gig a whirl; the performances are uniformly fine, but the year abroad feels like a year. Everyone on screen seems to be having a grand old time; all these essentially jobless and financially independent ex-pats, travelers and natives form happy little tribes in the time it takes a check to clear. Do they know she’s a movie star? She attracts instant friends, worthy confidantes and lovers the way I attract weirdos. Like a wizard, Roberts packs her magic duffel bag with enough clothes that she never wears the same thing twice. For a whole year! That’s a trick I could have used when sending off my daughter for her senior year of college.
Edgar Wright plays it a little softer and sweeter than usual with Scott Pilgrim. Perhaps Toronto is too nice to earn much of this nasty Brit’s satirical rancor and edge. Pure white snow blankets every too-quiet street, and all the modish young characters live harmoniously in a tidily whitewashed so-geeky-they’re-cool universe unimpeded by the old or even middle aged. All their noisy (and quiet) fun gets disrupted by seven avenging evil exes Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) must vanquish to earn the privilege of dating the fair (if fickle-haired) Ramona.
Cera, ever the girly-voiced cinematic swain, counter intuitive catnip to women, plays another slight variation on his ever-so-slight variations. So slight as to not be apparent to my naked eye. The punches and kicks land with no real aftermath, no real drama, no real suspense, no bruising; the losers of the battles merely explode into a cascade of shiny coins. This fate is what the filmmakers had in mind for the film’s battle at the box office; a weightless gambit with nothing much at stake save an explosion of filthy lucre at the finish. Time will tell. But I will admit I was grinning expectantly from the opening bars of the Universal logo theme done gamer-style. And there are way worse messages out there for aspiring playahs than the surprisingly staid moral of the piece: No two-timing. Be nice. Fight for your true love.
The music is loud and the graphics laugh-out-loud clever, but mostly I’d had enough after the first battle. I didn’t much care about the love story at the heart of the endeavor; it’s hard to care much about such arrested young adults. The stakes stay remarkably low, and the love stories remain as cartoonish as the violence.
It’s all a game, says the film. Or a dream. Death is fairly mutable here; this is a big summer for reversible death, isn’t it? What a pretty and appealing thought even if the big idea’s dumb as a box of rocks at its philosophically gooey center. Do-overs. Replays. Rewinds. Inception-style.
Kieran Culkin scores big as Pilgrim’s roommate, a sly and predatory gay whose story I’d much rather have watched. In a weirdly low-key twist on the standard indie antic pixie dream girl, Mary Elizabeth Winstead sleepwalks through with her big eyes wide open and her dyed locks upstaging her. Anna Kendrick has some sharp comic moments, and unrivaled hipster clown Jason Schwartzman adds yet another indie icon to his collection. I could go on, but you get the drift. It’s cool. I’m not. Case closed.
These two films deliver perfectly for their (rather narrow) target audiences. If you’re not a target, you would do well to skip Eat Pray Love. Watch it on DVD with your girlfriend or wife later. Bring home really great Italian or Indian takeout. You’ll earn major brownie points. Then after the movie, you can pretend to be Javier and the couch can be the boat and the bed can be the hammock and… I take this recommendation too far.
If you’ve been counting the days till Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, you’ve already seen it and loved it. If you were completely unaware it existed until now, it’s probably not for you. But if you’re sitting on a fence somewhere in the middle, go. You could do a whole lot worse.
Scott Pilgrim is the Smackdown winner. I’m stunned and surprised. Knock me over with a feather/Michael Cera.