MOVIE: Scott Pilgrim Vs The World
QUICKIE DESCRIPTION: Nerdgasm
LESSON OF THE DAY: Cause and Effect
I feel bad starting off with a movie that I wound up loving so much, but it’s too late for that now so let’s just ride through the gush-fest and I promise we’ll be out the other side before we know it. Scott Pilgrim uses the day-to-day life of an awkward, careerless, directionless twenty-something still-teen that so many of can instantly empathize with to craft an action movie that puts most modern action movies to shame. The narrative is kept very tight throughout the entire film. Unlike so many other movies, Scott Pilgrim never hits one of those points where it’s so obviously coasting through a formula scene (a perfect example being the romance arc bits in the otherwise amazing Thor) that you know you can start checking your phone, go to the kitchen for nachos, etc. without missing anything – but we’re straying into Lesson of the Day territory. This is one of the rare films where very noticeable editing and cinematography are a good thing – and I’m not just talking about the fight scenes.
Edgar Wright is a master of perspective, shooting a tiny room in such a way that we don’t see somebody standing two feet away from Scott until he turns and notices her. There’s an amazing sequence where Scott is walking through his day in a daze with time-skip jump-cuts that he rides with the audience – where another movie might just show a bunch of shots of the protagonist just moping around out of it, Scott’s perspective is matched with the camera’s. He hasn’t noticed the time go by that the camera didn’t see. It’s one of those things I’ll struggle to explain that make perfect sense on film. I could probably go scene by scene talking about how well done this movie is for hours – and these would still just be the things I liked about the movie. But we should move on.
For Lesson of the Day I put “Cause and Effect” and this movie really is a perfect example of how you should logically progress a story. To borrow from South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, there is never a true “and then this happens” moment. The flow of the narrative is incredibly organic. Sometimes the logic of reality is totally crushed to bits but the cause and effect never swerves. There’s a great bit they introduce early in the movie where as soon as Scott decides he is going to do something, his roommate blabs to Scott’s sister, who immediately calls to give advice. This whole process takes two seconds at most. It’s unrealistic, and the movie knows this. But it doesn’t hang you up for a moment because it takes you to the next step of the story – Scott getting a second opinion. Every decision in the movie is like this. Choice-action-consequences-new choice-action and so on. It’s really a breakneck pace but you never feel rushed because the progression is logical throughout. You never get stuck going “Wait, why is this happening and how does it connect to the main plot” or “Hold on a minute, when did this giant fighting robot cross six city blocks to get to this side of the battle?”
The only real times something “just happens” in an “and then” fashion is when Scott and Ramona run into each other in a coffee shop and during a fight when Scott performs an off-screen slight of hand trick. The first one is such a small thing there’s no need to question it and the second one – which could normally cause some issues with a fight’s cause and effect – turns into the set up for an amazing joke I don’t dare spoil for you. And there’s something else you should take from this – there can be small coincidences if they serve a purpose for that scene. But you can’t build the entire plot on coincidences. The plot should be what happen because of your character’s actions, not your character’s reactions to things that just happen for no reason. And Scott Pilgrim does things happening for a reason exceptionally well. In fact by the end of the movie it becomes pretty clear that everything that has happened to the Scott and Ramona is their “fault”. It’s no coincidence that a big theme of this story is baggage. Traits we see these two characters displaying in the present created problems (or are creating problems) that have to be dealt with. And this is what drives the entire plot of the movie. Not all plots all character-based, but this level of cause and effect should be present in any plot. Let the things your characters are doing or have done to each other be what moves the plot forward. Don’t just make an endless barrage of “and then this happens.” That will only lead to one thing.