After lots of fanatic hope and unrealistic expectations, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World "bombed" at the box office, pulling in only $11 million to help pay back its $60 million budget. Never mind the fact that it's the best opening ever for an Edgar Wright film -- in fact, more than twice the opening gross of his two other cult hits, as Eugene pointed out this morning. But there's another bit of negative Pilgrim chatter that's caught my eye on this Monday: That Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is misogynistic.
io9 linked to a blog post at Asking the Wrong Questions, where writer Abigail Nussbaum states: "The most interesting question raised by Edgar Wright's Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is why it left me feeling delighted rather than quivering with feminist rage." She later continues: "But especially given that, according to my friends who are its fans, Scott Pilgrim the comic is a story that tries to combat much of the misogyny that underlies Scott Pilgrim the film and other works of its ilk, it's a shame that this is the best Edgar Wright could come up with -- a film that uses flashing lights and bright colors to distract its viewers from the unpleasantness at its core."
And that was one of the nicer accounts of male-female relations.
Stephanie Zacharek ravaged the film over at Movieline, wondering: "But to get the girl -- in this case, a deadpan minx named Ramona, played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead -- shouldn't he [Michael Cera as Scott Pilgrim] have to express some interest in her, to progress beyond moony-eyed infatuation? To talk to her, to find out what she likes and doesn't like, to avoid boring her with useless trivia that's of interest only to him, to make something other than garlic bread when he invites her over for dinner?"
At Flick Filosopher, MaryAnn Johanson finds nothing good in the proceedings, calling it "Twilight for boys," and describing the film as "a tale that is deeply off-putting for what it says about young men's attitudes toward young women, and toward romantic relationships. In this respect, it seems, there's nothing new about this new generation."
I can certainly understand the problems some viewers have with Ramona's complicity in the proceedings. She explains to Scott that he must defeat her "seven evil exes," but never really discusses her part in the whole matter. It's questionable in both the comic and the film that Ramona never discusses her feelings over this fight-and-defeat dynamic as she vaguely explains it to Scott. She's a little too passive, hands-off, and self-deprecating about the whole thing.
But I don't feel comfortable calling it misogynistic, especially when the entire affair is about overcoming flaws and learning from mistakes, while commenting and flipping the typical world of video games.
I adore the series, and that's partly because I spent much of my time at that age going to the places Bryan Lee O'Malley outlines in the comics. But O'Malley created a lot more than just the city of Toronto. He recreated a familiar world of young life and love, as Scott reviewed last week. We're offered a collection of flawed people, each of whom learn an important lesson after an absolutely surreal journey of ex butt-kicking, rather than big-busted girls more interested in being sexy than tough, or wimpy and pointless princesses.
Each person in the film jumps into a relationship that's not really suitable to them, at least, not at the current time. Scott likes Knives (Ellen Wong) because she's simple and sweet. After his drama with Envy Adams, he wants simplicity, and is quite happy "almost" holding hands and just listening to her high school problems. It allows him to tip-toe back into the water, and to also entrench himself in high school living and hide away from the necessity to grow up. Knives, meanwhile, is the young high school girl enamored by the "older-man" world Scott offers. As many young girls do, she goes overboard with her "love" and forms an unhealthy and overly emotional obsession with someone not worthy of her time and affection. Ramona, meanwhile, is the girl with a lot of drama in her past who wants to start new with someone nice. She's drawn to Scott's innocence and simplicity, until her emotional baggage makes things difficult because she never dealt with it when she should have.
Really, the film condemns all of the dumb things we do in youth -- how we pick the wrong people, or fall for someone before we ever really get to know them. It chastises our obsession with avoidance -- how we'd rather put off the unpleasant, or even avoid the truth of a situation. The film comments on our ties to the past and how we allow them to remain strong, or never fully get past them. It uses video game fighting to play out and ridicule macho territorial behavior. It asks women to not attack each other during romantic dramas, and to place the blame where it belongs. It reveals how often we put more importance on mundane relationships than the relationships that actually deserve it. (Whether we're talking Knives' hormonal love, Scott's obsession, or the fact that many of these exes are barely exes at all.) It even uses niceness as a way to link the hero and the villain; both Scott and Gideon (Jason Schwartzman) use niceness to get what they want, one passively, and one aggressively.
The movie and series look at all the ways we f**k up when we're young, and what we should learn from it. Everyone is flawed in a wholly realistic way, but since this is cinema, they're given a surreal and larger-than-this-world way of learning about and overcoming their flaws. It feels a lot like a cinematic, video game-version of a Disney fairytale, teaching us how to treat others with respect, how to enter love when the slate is clean, and not in response to previous drama.
There is, of course, a problem with the fact that these sorts of stories aren't getting written with female protagonists, but something tells me that might change over the next few years as we're continually offered an Up scenario where the supporting cast deserve the spotlight. I can't knock a male writer for creating a world that has a male protagonist, especially when these are the most dressed women a comic/video game movie has ever seen. Instead, we should be requesting, nay, shouting for creators to look at these awesome side characters and give them chances to shine. By appreciating girls like Ellie and Knives now, I can't help but wonder if we'll see more writers and creators inspired to make these sort of women and girls center-stage in the future.
What I would like to see changed, right now, is the gender-divided assumptions coming from those who pan the movie. I'm not insulted by Ramona Flowers, but I am insulted and troubled by the off-hand remarks about how this is a film for boys, or a film for people under 30. I'm a woman in my thirties, and I loved it and related to it. It doesn't make me a boy, and it doesn't make me immature. If we still assign value by gender, we can't expect movies to rise above gender restraints.
What are your thoughts on how Scott Pilgrim vs. The World deals with its female characters? Is the film misogynistic? Offer up your thoughts below.