I may have to turn in my nerd membership, because I thought Scott Pilgrim vs. the World was absolutely God-awful. Not just because the plotline was pathetically thin, or because the fight scenes were dull or the characters two-dimensional — the problem with Scott Pilgrim wasn’t even the fact that Michael Cera still hasn’t learned a second acting technique apart from affably confused. No, I realized I was in a really bad movie after two troubling scenes at the very start.
The first is when Ramona Flowers (Mary-Elizabeth Winstead) roller-skates through Scott’s subconscious before he meets her, making her literally the girl of his dreams and, essentially, his creation. And then, a little later, the scene in which Scott prepares to battle Ramona’s first “evil ex” named Matthew Patel, picture above, who breaks into a Bollywood number before fighting Scott because he is, after all, East Indian and has magical powers. Not kidding.
Even that might not have been so bad if the film had in any way given a fair shake to any skin color other than white. But, as Sean Stangland at Daily Herald Blogs argues:
I realize that every “good” character, for lack of a better word, is white. The other prominent Asian characters in the film are Scott’s clingy, borderline crazy Chinese girlfriend, Knives Chao (Ellen Wong), and two of Matthew’s fellow evil exes, Kyle and Ken Katanagi (Keita Saitou and Shota Saito). Latinos are represented by Clifton Collins Jr. as a vegan cop, and blacks are represented by … uhh … hmm … no one. So perhaps the criticism that the film was made for and by white hipster douchebags carries a little more weight than I thought.
The fact that Knives is Chinese is brought up many times in the movie, and the suggestion is that Scott is only dating Knives because she’s one of those sweet, easy-to-please Chinese schoolgirls. Apart from being obsessed with Scott, Knives doesn’t really do, say, or think much.
Stangland then quotes MaryAnn Johanson’s (a female film writer) take on the film:
“All the style is nothing but a would-be ‘sweet’ metaphor for men treating women as property… and woman acquiescing to being treated that way.”
First, we’re treated to several instances of the male gaze in which Scott spots Ramona up against a wall at a party, and then later stumbles into her bedroom while she’s changing. Ramona, naturally, far from being upset, kisses Scott and removes her skirt. There is also a scene near the end where Scott has to rescue Ramona from her final evil ex and she is kneeling in front of him and wearing a collar. I so wish I were joking. Even Woody Allen doesn’t go that far in his misogyny.
Now obviously these chivalric hero quests have been around since the dawn of time, but isn’t it about time that we start updating them? And I don’t mean the way this year’s Robin Hood did, by having Cate Blanchette storm into battle on a horse, only to still need rescuing when she accidentally falls off into the ocean (Lady drivers, amirite?). Or, at the very least, don’t leave it all up to Angelina.
What was frustrating about Scott Pilgrim, though, was not the fact that these age-old tropes were present, but that they were presented so gleefully, and as comedy. One of Ramona’s exes is a woman, and Scott refuses to fight her, so Scott has to use Ramona’s hands to fight so the KO still counts. Because hitting girls is wrong? Because a woman couldn’t possibly handle the full brunt of Michael Cera’s power? What exactly was the message of that scene supposed to be? Or any of the scenes mentioned?
Scott Pilgrim was bad no matter how you looked at it, but especially if you look at it from the perspective of anyone who’s not white, male or 23. And people wondered why it flopped.