Scott Pilgrim Learns- Don't Be That Guy!
Pretty much undoubtedly the biggest ‘geek’ movie of this Summer was the Michael Cera vehicle Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, based on a Canadian indie comic book that blended slice-of-life romance between twenty-somethings with the physics and logic of classic video games and hyperkinetic shōnen manga.
The comic has been around for a few years now, but the release of the film now speaks to, well, the Michael-Cera-isation of the Hollywood leading man. If, in the ‘90s, masculinity was in crisis and rebelling against the staid and seemingly-stifling and feminising world around it, as evidenced in the likes of Falling Down and Fight Club, then in recent years we’ve instead seen a trend in Hollywood telling men that it’s ok to be a little emotionally immature and a little scared of dealing with adult problems. And, yes, it’s ok to admit to having trouble with that. I’m looking at you, the back-catalogue of Judd Apatow. If this trend has a face (besides Seth Rogen, I guess) then it’s the half-the-time smiling sweet-as-syrup, half-the-time eyes wide with alarm and quietly-though-barely-contained fright at the common(ish) problems around him face of Michael Cera, developed no doubt over three years of Arrested Development, where he played the struggling though clean-as-a-whistle teen George Michael Bluth.
The eponymous Scott Pilgrim is, I suppose, the first time Michael Cera has played a protagonist that can be described as something of an action hero. Admittedly, it’s an interesting role.It's evidence of the current trend of relatable, geeky heroes in Hollywood, which is itself a duel-edged sword. This trend both reassures men that it’s ok to have the worries and troubles that they have and also (perhaps disturbingly) justifies a more immature and emotionally stunted man. It also presents both the geek and his personal power fantasy. Scott Pilgrim is both a Canadian everyman (everyboy?) and the super-hero martial-artist of his unrealistic aspirations. In geek archetype terms he is both Billy Batson and Captain Marvel: the boy who wishes he were a powerful superhero so that he may overcome his problems and the godlike hero that that boy does indeed become. A juvenile power fantasy writ obvious if ever there was one.
Scott’s problems are familiar ones, and ones no doubt familiar to some of Cera’s past roles: he has girl troubles. Hey, a lot of men do. And in this Judd Apatow world, it’s ok to admit that girl troubles freak you the hell out sometimes, as long as you get over them by the end of the movie (I guess I’m thinking in particular of The 40-Year-Old Virgin here). Scott Pilgrim is, for all its touting of the perpetual geeky boy-man as its erstwhile hero, a film that is actually about growing up. Scott has to learn to stop dating his Asian highschooler not-girlfriend (a nod, no doubt, not just to his own immaturity but to the common fetishisation of Asian schoolgirls common to perpetual adolescents) and date an actual adult (or, at least, twenty-something) woman, with a real job and real history and baggage too. You know, like real adults have. The narrative’s first slap to Pilgrim’s face comes where his stock chat-up line – a hyper-geeky piece of nerd trivia about the origins of Pac-Man – wows his virginal sweetheart “Knives” but bores his cooler-than-thou crush Ramona. So yes, we have a film designed to appeal to geeky men, but at the same time tries to tell them “yes, you will have to grow up to get want you want, and yes, it will be a struggle.”