Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World is perhaps the apex of cinematic genre mashups. Edgar Wright has described the film as a musical where massive comic book battles take the place of song and dance numbers. He masterfully characterizes each of Ramona’s evil ex-boyfriends through various fighting styles, with Lucas Lee’s sick skateboarding skills and Todd Ingram’s vegan powers essentially acting as the “lyrics” to their villain song. However, Wright isn’t satisfied with simply making his film a pseudo-musical. Scott Pilgrim’s (Michael Cera) precious little life largely centers around his band, Sex Bob-Omb, who’s music along with that of their competition buoys us through the narrative.
Scott Pilgrim’s garage band isn’t particularly good. With the exception of Kim Pine’s (Allison Pill) signature opening belt, they lack the confidence and stage presence of a successful act. As they play through their distorted amps, bland looking gray bolts burst out. It’s not so much music as it is noise, with their song that opens the film literally devolving into gibberish. Steven Stills (Marc Webber) isn’t a particularly confident singer, constantly terrified of what every other band is doing instead of just focusing on his own performance. This is a group that likely won’t be escaping the Toronto music scene anytime soon.
Scott possesses a similar lack of confidence when the film begins. He too can’t decide on a direction, caught between dating Knives Chau (Ellen Wong) and Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). As such, he’s not very smooth with either of them, only stumbling into their affections through pure dumb luck. The band doesn’t start to get better until Scott starts evolving as a person. When Scott finally earns the power of self-respect, he believes in himself enough to have found his own “musical style,” as it were. This is why the triumphant reprise of “We are Sex Bob-Omb” over the second battle with Gideon Graves (Jason Schwartzman) has such a strong impact. It’s the final moment of catharsis on Scott’s journey through the story.
Crash and the Boys
I think the masterpiece known as “I’m So Sad, So Very, Very Sad” – written for the movie by Canadian indie rockers Broken Social Scene – speaks for itself. Definitely robbed of a best original song nomination.
Wright essentially plays his hand when Matthew Patel (Satya Bhabha), Ramona’s first evil ex, appears. He introduces the audience to his “fights as musical numbers” mother by literally having his first villain break out into a Bollywood-influenced song. As Matthew summons fireballs and demon hipster chicks, we discover that we’re not just watching a romantic comedy with a somewhat heightened visual style. We’re witnessing what is essentially an operatic ode to pop culture, with music being one of the many driving forces.
The Clash at Demonhead
Scott spends much of the film hung up over his breakup with Envy Adams (Brie Larson) and when we meet her band, The Clash at Demonhead, we instantly know why. While their musical style is somewhat similar to that of Sex Bob-Omb’s, Clash embodies everything that they are not. From the moment their silhouettes hit the stage, the crowd is enraptured. Their amp creates a sleek red beam underneath them, upstaging Sex’s sputtering gray bolts. Envy is a force of nature on stage. As she belts “Black Sheep” (written for the film by Metric), Wright rhythmically cuts to awed reaction shots of Scott and Ramona, along with confident smolders from Envy’s new boyfriend/Clash’s bassist, Todd Ingram (Brandon Routh). This is this life on top of the world that Scott feels that he has left behind, the one free of the baggage that he has been literally fighting through in order to be with Ramona. Envy has essentially found an upgraded Scott in Todd, who is even rocking a similar hairstyle to our cowardly hero.
Hence, when Scott and Todd ultimately do go at it, they have a Bass Battle. This is Scott not only fighting another one of the exes but one of the few times in the film where he faces a mirror version of himself. In this case, he’s facing the confident, bad boy musician that he desperately is trying to convince himself to become. However, it’s all a ruse, as Todd is ultimately the one who wins the base battle. Scott is only able to defeat Todd by outwitting him with the vegan coffee cup trick, thus breaking the mold that he’s been desperately trying to fit throughout the film. A major step on the path to the power of self-respect.
Wright is without a doubt one of the most meticulous directors in the business. Every choice he makes, visual, auditory, or otherwise is there to serve the story, even in a silly movie like Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World. He delights in using every millisecond of screen time to tell us something new about these characters, and the film’s music is a strong reflection of this. It may seem like auxiliary world building on the surface but it is actually the fuel that powers Scott Pilgrim’s battle against Romona’s exes and eventually, himself.