Tuesday, August 17, 2010

“It’s a boy’s world.” “Let’s keep it that way."

For the blissfully ungeek among you, the title of this post is a take-off on the final panel of Planetary #1 by Warren Ellis and John Cassaday:

And it refers to this movie:

My outer boy had a ton o' fun watching this movie. It’s snappy, clever, and original, like Napoleon Dynamite with kung fu. And there’s a whole conversation to be had about the wonderfulness of the direction, just how annoying Michael Cera’s shtick is becoming, the absolutely stupid way the film was marketed, the pros and cons of form over substance, the arcade game in-jokes, how love means dumping and dealing with baggage, and the relentless unlikeability of the main character for most of the movie.

Not this unlikeable, but close.

There’s an even bigger conversation about what you could call the Fred and Ginger Law (“That which cannot be said must be danced”), and how in this film the dances are fight scenes, which means all the emotional involvement is between Our Hero and his latest Rival, rather than Our Hero and Our Heroine. But the conversation I want to have now--okay, okay: the monologue--is the one I have been having with my inner adult for the last two days, and it all centers around the following statement, which gets repeated over and over again underneath the plot of this movie like a sub-vocal bass note:

I’m not saying it’s an overt message--the film is candy-surface delightful, and my inner adult didn’t begin to nag me until long after the credits rolled--and you can totally watch it without once ever thinking about how almost every female in this flick is defined by who she’s seeing or who she used to see (including the female drummer of the band). What I’m saying is, if you're looking for a review of Scott Pilgrim vs The World,then stop reading now, because in my characteristic way, I am taking the film as Square One and hopping like a knight all over the board. And the name of that board is Girls As Objects Of Desire, and there's a square for everything from Helen of Troy to 500 Days of Summer. Also--to be clear: this is not about the 6-volume Scott Pilgrim comic book. Just the movie.

MY INNER ADULT: And what a movie! Another film where the main female character gets fought over, and the main male character becomes worthy of her. It's Ivanhoe meets Donkey Kong. There's even two rival women--one dark and foreign, one blonde and bland.
ME: Ramona Flowers is not blonde!
MY INNER ADULT: Blonde, blue, green, fuschia--I don't care how hard she tries to look like Kate Winslet in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind--like every other woman in this flick, she's only there to walk off in the sunset with a man, or bitch about not having one.
ME: That is so totally not true sometimes!
MY INNER ADULT: Oh yeah? Look at the women in this movie.

Here are the women in this movie: Kim Pine, drummer of Sex Bob Omb, who is Scott’s ex-girlfriend; Knives Chau, who is Scott’s current girlfriend; Ramona Flowers, who is Scott’s wannabe girlfriend; Envy Adams, who is Scott’s most recent ex-girlfriend; Stacey Pilgrim, Scott’s sister; and Julie Powers, foul-mouthed on-again off-again girlfriend of the band’s lead singer. Not counting the sister, all but one of the movie’s female characters have or will have Scott history--and frankly, the way Julie calls Scott out on his bullshit, you get the distinct feeling that he hooked up with her as well, or at least went through her friends like the Black Plague went through Europe.

ME: Jeez--I hate to admit it, but you're right.

On the plus side, all these characters DO something: Kim plays drums in a band, Knives goes to high school (she’s 17), Ramona delivers for Amazon on roller skates, Julie and Stacey work at a coffee shop, and Envy is the lead singer in a hot band. On the minus side, what they do is not who they are--who they are is what they do because of Scott: Kim makes sarcastic deadpan remarks about everything and glares at Scott like she’s owed an apology for something he did to her in second grade; Knives is all gushy when Scott wants her and all vengeful when he doesn’t; the way Envy keeps twisting the I’m Famous And You’re Not knife into Scott, it’s like her success is nothing more than a hate fuck; and Ramona?

Ah, Ramona. Ramona is my big problem with this movie. As Scott’s Baggage-Packing Object Of Desire, Ramona is like Andromeda to Scott’s Perseus, except that instead of having to rescue her from one monster, he has to fight seven.

Don't you wish you were a record producer so you could say, "Release The Kraken?"

And what does Ramona do while all this is happening? With two exceptions, one where she fights Knives and one where she fights Her Lesbian Ex, Ramona does nothing but watch--or in other words, when she’s not fighting a girl, she gets fought over by guys. And now and then deliver pieces of her backstory, which in this film is a chronicle of yet another failed relationship. That’s her character: the people she’s dated. She’s like a gigantic baggage compartment; every time Scott pulls down one suitcase, six more take its place. And if he gets rid of all of them? If he actually clears out the baggage compartment, like Hercules cleaning the Augean Stables? Then she’s his. Which makes me want to ask: girl, do you have a mind of your own or what? Except that the movie answers that for me by saying “Hell no.” I mean cripes, there’s even a scene where we find out she’s actually being mentally controlled by The Big Bad Ex.

RAMONA: He has a way of getting into my head. [Exposing glowing chip at the base of her brain] No, really--he has a way of getting into my head.

Granted, it makes for a great gag, but under the laughter, we’re left with yet another mysterious chick who can only think what a guy wants her to think. And what is the heart of her mystery? She’s The Hot Girl (see the first line of that poster above). She is The Girl Every Guy Desires Because She Is Desirable, a geek-approved version of Bella in Twilight who exists to do nothing but be fought over.

Coming in 2012: Scott Pilgrim vs Team Edward!

Does Ramona have any say in who she ends up with? Sure doesn’t feel like it. The entire movie plays like one long video-game entitled Winner Gets The Girl, where the boy kicks ass with the swords of Love and Self-Respect and the girl is first prize. Cuz, y’know, nothing says self-respect more than kicking some other guy’s ass over a girl. I've got an idea. How about a definition of self-respect that includes not treating women like treasures in a video game?

WESTERN CULTURE: I give up; how about that?

In the end, it’s the classic story of a boy’s journey to manhood, and the girl who gets to walk him home to her place because he’s been kicked out by his gay roommate. And like I keep saying, it’s a ton of fun. Believe me when I tell you, there is no better movie about love as an arcade game. Which is why after every screening there will always be that rarity of rarities, a mile-long line at the Men’s Room. But I am so tired of the Boy's Journey To Manhood, especially when the BJTM equates a woman with the destination. What about a girl's journey now and then?

WESTERN CULTURE: You mean where the man is the destination?
MY INNER GIRL: Oh eat me.

So yeah--a fun movie, nowhere near as stupidly violent or chaotic as the commercials make it out to be. But there’s also the hint of another movie here--a movie under this one, a Ramona-centered movie that would start off with the same exact premise and then go somewhere totally different. Where? Well, in all Ramona’s stories about her exes, she’s the one who walks away. She’s the dumper, not the dumpee, and it makes you wonder if she’s someone who can’t commit, or can’t deal. It makes you say, “Of course she walks away. What else is a woman of intelligence and spirit supposed to do when she’s treated like an arcade game version of Sleeping Beauty BUT walk away? Except maybe run away.” It makes you imagine a story where the prize not only gets to say who wins her but how much she’s really worth. A story where the baggage-saddled heroine deals with her own crap instead of asking a guy to deal with it for her. A story where the girls are defined by what they do, and how well they do it, and not what guy they end up with. A story like this:

A movie that will never come to a theatre near you. Why?

That's why.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Tend to agree. Scott Pilgrim vs the World was a lot of fun and great stylistically, but... yeah.

I think part of the issue was that it took a long and layered comic series (for example, it becomes more obvious towards the end of the story that Scott Pilgrim has not been a reliable narrator). The comic series is still very much Scott's story, but Ramona had her own character development arc. It also made it clear that making a relationship work involved more than skill with fisticuffs.

The chip in the head thing was a major simplification. It's one of those things that I can understand them cutting - it wouldn't have fit well into the movie. But you're absolutely right that it short-changed Ramona as an independent character.

In the movie version, some people were rooting for Scott and Knives to get together (and that's despite her being underage) . I suspect that's largely because Ramona is such an incredibly passive character, while Knives is actually ACTIVE (she wants something and fights for it) and goes through some character development.