'Scott Pilgrim vs. the World' vs. Old Critics

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Scott Pilgrim vs. the World opens this week, but apparently you needn’t have seen the film to take part in the debate online: is this a movie for everyone, or is it just for audiences roughly the same age as the characters in it? If you don’t like it, is it because it’s a not a good film, or because you are too old?

After David Edelstein wrote a mixed review, in which he called the movie ravishing but repetitive, commenters accused him of being far too aged to appreciate the videogame, manga-comic, text-message, emoticon ethos of the movie, which was adapted from a series of graphic novels about the supernatural adventures of a 20-somethig Torontonian trying to win the love of a punk-haired, Rollerblading gal. Elsewhere, less-than-stellar reviews by critics presumably of Edelstein’s vintage have been similarly attacked by Pilgrim fans who think the reviewers should toddle off to take a nice nap while their dentures soak.

All this is nothing new, of course. When Godard’s Breathless came out, the old guard found the film deplorable filth, while viewers of the same generation as the outlaw main characters embraced the ways it defied conventional storytelling. Unlike Breathless, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is simply too adorable to incite true hatred from anyone but the most dyspeptic crank, making the fans’ anticipatory defensiveness feel a bit misplaced. More important, while it may be a movie “for the kids,” it’s possibly even more enjoyable if you’re a few years outside the target demographic.

While it’s true that some of the references might be lost on someone over 40 (or someone not of the alternative, self-aware, ironic, hipster demographic the film portrays), there’s no reason older audiences shouldn’t enjoy the movie. (Director Edgar Wright is 36.) Take away the graphic novel–inspired visuals, the winking Gossip Girl dialogue, the Goodwill-meets-Twilight outfits, the painstakingly curated alterna-rock soundtrack, and you have a classic coming-of-age story about a hapless man-child who runs after a girl, only to find ... himself.

What the film gets perfectly right is that feeling of being in your early 20s, optimistic but undirected, still more concerned with being cool than you want to admit, and capable of stunning thoughtlessness because you honestly have no idea what you’re doing. The beginning of the film plays with time—Scott (Michael Cera) seems to go through weeks of adventures, then blinks his eyes to realize mere seconds have passed and he’s still in the middle of band practice—in a way that is both existential and emotionally true to the drifty, unstructured nature of the age. (It’s also pretty accurate to the experience of being a huge stoner, but the movie is almost self-consciously prim—bad words are cutely bleeped out; no one smokes cigarettes, let alone pot; and Scott’s beverage of choice is Coke Zero.)

Smartly, the movie makes no claims to speak for its generation (like the insufferable Away We Go) or provide an adult-friendly Cliffs Notes to How Kids Talk These Days (like Juno). The characters in the film, while not exactly real, feel unself-consciously true. When Scott and his love interest kill an afternoon trolling thrift shops and record stores, eating pizza, and playing video games, it may remind audiences over the age of 30 of a million afternoons squandered while waiting for life to really begin. If you’re part of that audience, you may feel a wistful sense of nostalgia. You may also feel relief you never have to be that age again.

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