Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (12A)

The Hot Fuzz director’s latest is both fastidious and funny, writes Ryan Gilbey.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (12A)
dir: Edgar Wright

Plenty of films have sought to reproduce the pleasures particular to reading a comic book, listening to a favourite rock band or getting hopped up on video games. Until Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, no single work has tried to evoke these sensations simultaneously, and with good reason: the combination suggests a migraine rather than a movie. But in the hands of the British director Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz), the effect is a larky kind of overkill. Your eyes are saturated but you don't feel bludgeoned; the film's too-muchness becomes part of its joke.

Wright keeps the tone daft and weightless, in tribute to his picture's hero. Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) is a 23-year-old Canadian bass player with a sizeable ego, little apparent talent and a doting high-school girlfriend called Knives Chau (Ellen Wong). Adapting Bryan Lee O'Malley's spry graphic novels for the big screen, Wright is pedantically faithful to the ephemera of the page. On-screen sounds retain their onomatopoeic residue - a ringing doorbell leaves the words "Ding dong" hanging in the air. "Love" appears in pink powdery dust when Knives sighs at Scott, only for him to brush it away disdainfully like cigar smoke.

His head has been turned by the arrival in Toronto of Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a super-cool roller-skating courier. If Scott can ditch Knives, he might have a future with Ramona. Trouble is, she has a colourful past. Instead of merely overcoming the insecurity he feels about his new girlfriend's old flames, Scott must do battle with seven of them in turn. These martial-arts confrontations are framed in the vocabulary of video games: there are mid-air fisticuffs where the loser combusts into a shower of coins. Victory is heralded by a satisfying jangling, like coming up cherries on a fruit machine.

Watching someone else play a video game ranks only slightly higher on my list of enjoyable experiences than treading on an upturned plug or listening to Libby Purves. But Wright plays the action sequences as slapstick crescendos. One minute the characters are whining and bickering, the next Scott is being hurled through walls. The joke lies in how nonchalant everyone seems. No one questions where Scott, who can't even be bothered to hang up his coat, finds the powers necessary to soar into the air and land a haymaker on the mouth of a flying Bollywood assassin. And for all Wright's stylistic deference to video games and comics, none of the characters has much time for either. These are simply the marinades in which their young lives have been soaked.

In the picture's fastidious direction and editing, Wright confirms his place as Britain's Wes Anderson, or a comedy Kubrick. Both those directors have been known to plan all the fun out of a gag, but so far Wright's controlling tendencies are working in his favour. He sets up pomposity just to puncture it: a breakneck montage of Scott preparing for his final battle grinds to a deflated halt when this supposed action hero takes an age tying his shoelaces.

This is the director's first film outside the UK, and it's possible to pine for the cultural frisson of Hot Fuzz, where a Hollywood-style shoot-out flares up at a rural branch of Somerfield. But Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is still a dizzying advance and Wright's confidence comes through in the way he balances visual extravagance with comic intimacy. Each member of the large cast is given some killer lines and some memorable shtick; it's like a revue in which everyone gets their go. And no matter how extreme this alternative world becomes, it retains a soulful tactility. After a hole has been torn in the roof of a nightclub during a spectacular fight, you can't help but coo at the Toronto snow falling into the revellers' hair.

If the film has a weak link, it is Ramona, who is more of an embodiment of cool than a plausible character. The unspoken truth of the film is that Scott should really be with Stacey (Anna Kendrick), the coffee-shop barista who is every bit as sassy as he imagines Ramona to be.Unfortunately, Stacey is also his sister, and the world may not be ready for Scott Pilgrim vs. the Laws of Man and Nature.

Ryan Gilbey blogs on film every Tuesday at Cultural Capital

Ryan Gilbey is the New Statesman's film critic. He is also the author of It Don't Worry Me (Faber), about 1970s US cinema, and a study of Groundhog Day in the "Modern Classics" series (BFI Publishing). He was named reviewer of the year in the 2007 Press Gazette awards.

This article first appeared in the 30 August 2010 issue of the New Statesman, Face off

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For the last time, please, bring back the plate

The slight lip around the edge is no mere bourgeois affectation; it keeps the food contained in its proper place.

The much-vaunted tech revolution is not without its casualties, as I discovered first hand last weekend. The album format, creative boredom and now my favourite skirt: all collateral damage in the vicious battle for our waning attention span.

The last met its end in a pub, when it found itself on the wrong side of a slate slab full of Sunday roast. Once gravy got involved, things turned pretty ugly; and when reinforcements arrived in the form of a red-hot jar of plum crumble, I abandoned all hope of making it out with my dignity intact and began pondering the best way of getting a dry-cleaning bill to Tim Berners-Lee.

I lay the blame for such crimes against food entirely at the feet of the internet. Serving calamari in a wooden clog, or floury baps in a flat cap, is guaranteed to make people whip out their cameraphones to give the restaurant a free plug online.

Sadly for the establishments involved, these diners are increasingly likely to be sending their artistic endeavours to We Want Plates, a campaign group dedicated to giving offenders the kind of publicity they’re probably not seeking. (Highlights from the wall of shame on the campaign’s website include a dog’s bowl of sausage, beans and chips, pork medallions in a miniature urinal, and an amuse-bouche perched on top of an animal skull – “Good luck putting those in the dishwasher”.) Such madness is enough to make you nostalgic for an era when western tableware was so uniform that it moved an astonished Japanese visitor to compose the haiku: “A European meal/Every blessed plate and dish/Is round.”

The ordinary plate has its limitations, naturally: as every Briton knows, fish and chips tastes better when eaten from greasy paper, while a bit of novelty can tickle even the jaded palate at the end of a meal. Watching Jesse Dunford Wood create dessert on the tabletop at his restaurant Parlour is definitely the most fun I’ve ever had with an arctic roll (there’s a great video on YouTube, complete with Pulp Fiction soundtrack).

Yet the humble plate endures by simple dint of sheer practicality. The slight lip around the edge is no mere bourgeois affectation; it keeps the food contained in its proper place, rather than slipping on to the tablecloth, while the flat centre is an ideal surface for cutting – as anyone who has ever tackled sausages and mash in an old army mess tin (“perfect for authentic food presentation”, according to one manufacturer) will attest.

Given these facts, I hope Tom Aikens has invested in good napkins for his latest venture, Pots Pans and Boards in Dubai. According to a local newspaper, “Aikens’s Dubai concept is all in the name”: in other words, everything on the menu will be presented on a pot, pan or board. So the youngest British chef ever to be awarded two Michelin stars is now serving up salade niçoise in an enamel pie dish rightly intended for steak and kidney.

Truly, these are the last days of Rome – except that those civilised Romans would never have dreamed of eating oysters from a rock, or putting peas in an old flowerpot. Indeed, the ancient concept of the stale bread trencher – to be given to the poor, or thrown to the dogs after use – seems positively sophisticated in comparison, although I can’t help seeing the widespread adoption of the modern plate in the 17th century as a great leap forward for mankind, on a par with the internal combustion engine and space travel.

Which is why I have every faith that all those tiny trollies of chips and rough-hewn planks of charcuterie will eventually seem as absurd as surrealist gazelle-skin crockery, or futurist musical boxes full of salad.

In the meantime, may I recommend the adult bib?

Felicity Cloake write the food column for the New Statesman. She also writes for the Guardian and is the author of  Perfect: 68 Essential Recipes for Every Cook's Repertoire (Fig Tree, 2011) and Perfect Host: 162 easy recipes for feeding people & having fun (Fig Tree, 2013). She is on Twitter as @FelicityCloake.

This article first appeared in the 01 October 2015 issue of the New Statesman, The Tory tide