The film is about Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera), a 22-year-old bass player in Toronto-based band Sex Bob-Omb. He lives with his gay roommate Wallace (Kieran Culkin), and is currently dating high schooler Knives Chou (Ellen Wong), much to everyone's dismay. Then, one day, the girl of his dreams, Ramona (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), roller-blades her way into his life, and its love at first sight. But there's a catch: in order to be with Ramona, he must defeat her seven evil exes, as well as struggle with the return of his ex, who fronts a band that sold out for record label success, his relationship with Knives, and the Battle of the Bands.
That premise is deceptively straightforward. You expect the film to take certain turns, but instead it goes in a whole new direction, turning convention on its head. This exemplifies the film's best quality: over the course of 113 minutes, it riffs on romantic comedy conventions, video games, hipster culture, cinema, sitcoms, musicals, the music industry, Canada, and comics. Its the cinematic equivalent to a great jazz solo: its feels so loose and easy, but its actually very carefully and knowingly constructed.
Credit director/co-writer Edgar Wright for that success. Wright has already proven that he's one of the next Big Directors with Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, and here he continues to prove why he deserves that title. The film is a visual wonder, full of energy but not lost in its own colorful style, a la Speed Racer. And Wright provides plenty of clever visual clues and treats for those who pay attention; for example, before an ex shows up, you usually see the number of that ex somewhere in the shot. The fight scenes are intense, the music scenes are fun, and despite all of the style, the film never loses its heart. The emotional center of Scott and Ramona's romance is handled well, and their attraction feels natural. Its what keeps the film grounded, making everything that's happening, such as defeating superpowered foes who turn into coins after defeat, seem completely real within its world.
Its also refreshing to see that Scott is not just another Michael Cera character. Cera's always proven to be an excellent actor, but there are times when its hard to distinguish one character from another, since he's usually typecast as the awkward kid. But Scott is a much more layered character, and Cera plays him convincingly; its probably the best performance of his career (replacing Superbad's Evan). Winstead lends Ramona just the right mysterious edge, making her into a fantasy girl who's just out of reach. And supporting roles from Culkin and Allison Pill (as Kim, Sex Bob-omb's drummer and a former girlfriend of Scott's) bring just the right amount of comic relief.
As for the seven evil exes, they could not be better cast. Chris Evans gives a great performance as a conceited Hollywood actor shooting in Toronto ("They make movies in Toronto?" Great meta moment), while Brandon Routh is hilarious as an ex whose psychic abilities comes from his vegan diet (this results in a hilarious ending to their Guitar Hero-esque battle). Jason Schwartzman, always a delight, shows up as the final evil ex, and is wonderfully hammy in the role. And in a great moment for Arrested Development fans: one of Ramona's evil exes is played by Mae Whitman, who was George Michael Bluth's plain girlfriend Ann Veal.
This truly is a fantastic film, though it certainly is not for everyone: there will be people who "don't get it." The film's poor box office can be cited as evidence for that, but I suspect Scott Pilgrim will live on as a cult classic, one of those films that gets midnight screenings that people attend in costume. Don't let that scare you, though: at least give this miraculous film a try. It'll be worth your time.
PS One of the best moments at my screening came before the film even started. One of the trailers was for Devil, which everyone was pretty into for the first half. But when "From the mind of M. Night Shyamalan" came up on the screen, everyone groaned, then laughed. I almost felt bad for the guy.
PPS How awesome was the music in this film? Songs written by Beck, score produced by Nigel Godrich...so cool!