'Pilgrim' benefits from expert casting

Posted: Thursday, August 19, 2010

In Portland, Oregon, there is a small, independent comic book publisher called "Oni Press." Since 2004, writer Bryan Lee O'Malley has been producing a graphic novel called "Scott Pilgrim." Pilgrim, the novel's hero, is a 23-year old Canadian; he is a part-time bassist in a band with friends in Toronto called "Sex Bob-omb," and a part-time slacker. Pilgrim falls in love with an American girl named Ramona Flowers, a delivery girl for Amazon.

Unfortunately for Scott, he quickly finds out that in order to date Ramona he has to fight her seven evil exes. Director (and co-writer) Edgar Wright stays pretty close to his source material for the new movie, "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World." Wright also does a brilliant job incorporating a graphic novel/comic book feel to his movie. Before the movie's first frames, even, Wright establishes the tone for "Pilgrim" when the Universal Pictures logo pops up on screen with graphics that could have come from the original Nintendo and the music to match. This delighted one guy in the auditorium I was in Tuesday night to the point of exclaiming, "Ye-es!!"

He was so excited he kind of stumbled over the word, "yes."

Lucky for him, the rest of Wright's movie did not disappoint. The writing is excellent, credit for which has to be split between Wright and screenwriter Michael Bacall. The cast - more on them later - is entertaining and the heavily comic-ized visuals are not only easy to get used to, but they wonderfully enhance what "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World" has to offer. Pilgrim's battles with Ramona's exes feature plenty of flying through the air and being thrown through brick walls, and when Pilgrim defeats an ex they explode into thin air, leaving behind coins (just like a video game).

It is not just the action sequences where Wright plays loose with reality, either. Arriving home toward the middle of the movie, Pilgrim enters the apartment as "Seinfeld" music plays. He and his roommate exchange some cheesy dialogue and the sitcom laugh-track is suddenly very present. Pilgrim then walks into the bathroom for a split second, closes the door, and reappears in a new outfit. The laugh-track, just as suddenly as it had appeared, disappears. "Pilgrim" is teeming with these light-hearted moments, and they all add to the world Wright has created.

The biggest reason "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World" succeeds on-screen, though, is a name you will not find in the cast. Nor will you find it anywhere in the Oni Press novels. I have felt lately like I have seen the name "Allison Jones" an awful lot. It does not always automatically register like "Bruce Willis" or "Julia Roberts," but I know I have seen her name plenty. I saw it again in the opening credits for "Pilgrim": Casting Director, Allison Jones. A quick check of her credits makes me think she and I could probably be life-long friends; she put together the cast for "The 40 Year Old Virgin," several episodes of "Arrested Development," "Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby," "Knocked Up," "Superbad," "Step Brothers," and over 40 episodes of "The Office."

In other words, Jones is responsible for the casts of about 90 percent of what I watch on TV and on the big screen.

In "Pilgrim" she has plugged Michael Cera in as the hero, where his honed style of being awkward and sarcastic works perfectly. She has Chris Evans playing the gruff, narcissistic action-movie star ex of Ramona (Lucas Lee), a role not unlike the one Evans made a name for himself with in "Not Another Teen Movie." Jason Schwartzman is the villainous Gideon; nobody plays the whiny nerd that has become rich with power better than Schwartzman. Even amongst Jones' impressive body of work, the "Pilgrim" cast stands out.

So does the movie, itself. Although, in all honesty, I doubt sincerely if anyone over the age of 40 would be able to enjoy it. To be safe, go ahead and count yourself out if you don't know what a Wii is.

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