Scott Pilgrim: Is it Twilight for guys?

Here comes Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.

I’ve been curious about it, but then a critic put into words the very problem that has made me suspicious.

That critic is MaryAnn Johanson.

At artsandfaith.com, Jason Morehead quoted Johanson on the new Edgar Wright movie Scott Pilgrim vs. the World:

I know, I know: It’s all supposed to be “funny” and “cute” and “lighthearted.” But for as long as “women as trophies, as prizes for men who do heroic deeds” has been an unfortunate trope of Hollywood, a movie has never been this blatant, this outrageous, this nonchalant about it. And while there’s lots that is indeed funny and cute and lighthearted … there is no sense of satire in the unmetaphoric winning of Ramona. 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.

If this is true, Scott Pilgrim is really going to bother me.

In this season of “Team Edward” versus “Team Jacob,” one of the oldest and most revolting conventions of storytelling is going strong: The idea that the search for love is a battlefield where warriors must best one another in the contest for a mate. This reduces the realm of relationships to a nature documentary, insulting the intelligence of women by making them spectators, or worse, trophies. And it does young men a disservice by making them equate manhood with aggression and physical strength.

From the get-go, the trailers and book summaries for Scott Pilgrim have bothered me. If any girl had ever said to me, “I like you, but you’ll have to fight my ex-boyfriends and suitors to get me,” I’d have walked away at once. Relationships aren’t a competition or a game.

But then, another artsandfaith.com regular – Jason Panella  – responded with a quote from Edgar Wright himself:

I tried to make it seem … like an unreliable narrator. In film, I like this idea that [Scott Pilgrim is] the hero of the movie inside his own head. A life of gaming brought him up to be somebody — he’s not selfish, but he’s definitely kind of thoughtless. He’s the hero of his own story, and he’s quite single-minded. In the film, he doesn’t think about the feelings of the characters around him, or the consequences of some of his actions. He sort of views Ramona like she’s a shiny object in a game. I like the fact that the movie is about, to some extent, him getting his comic comeuppance.

Hmm.

So, I’m eager to see the movie.

Does it reinforce the idea that women are trophies that men must do battle to win? Or does it expose the folly of that perspective?

Will the film encourage mature relationships between the sexes, or affirm the unhealthy conventions that men should  compete for a chance to own and exploit beautiful damsels in distress?

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  • http://www.midasandthemovies.com Lauren Wilford

    Interesting article about Ramona as a “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” in Geeks of Doom:

    “When I first picked up Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim series, I fell for it, hard. Here, finally, was a quirky, beautiful love interest who wasn’t just another Manic Pixie Dream Girl — a three-dimensional girl with motivations and an inner life of her own. (It doesn’t sound like that should be too much to ask, but the sad case is that it often is.) I found O’Malley’s take on the archetype to be just about perfect.

    Then Edgar Wright’s film adaptation came out, and it was hilarious, and inventive, and energetic, and sweet, and… and yet another story about a Hapless Hero and a Manic Pixie Dream Girl. Although the film remained mostly faithful to the main plot of the source material, it had to cut copious amounts of backstory to fit into the running time. Perhaps no one suffered more than Ramona Flowers, who went from a fascinating, complex woman to a pretty trophy to be won.”

    http://geeksofdoom.com/2010/08/18/ramona-flowers-and-6-other-manic-pixie-dream-girls-who-arent/

  • Ryan

    I haven’t seen the movie yet, but it might be my most anticipated of the year. Twilight for guys? HA, no, that was ‘Transformers’. I’m only 24. I’ve grown up playing video games, trying to keep up with the latest music, and spending years going through the growing pains of outliving your once-young fantasy world of pop culture absorption. Lots of guys relate to this. I can remember the high school daydreams of ‘life-as-a-videogame’, and immature oversimplifications of love, sacrifice, and relationships. So far, I’ve gotten the impression of a film that is completely aware of the bliss of this fantasy world, and yet willing to reveal the shallow emptiness of it all so we can poke fun at ourselves.

    I don’t see “Twilight for boys” because what I see is a film bursting with creative energy, humor, endearing characters, and all held together by fantastic editing and kinetic action. And that’s not what Twilight was. If you understand who the target audience for this film is, I don’t get why the first thing that comes up is a reactionary wave of “IT THINKS WOMEN ARE TROPHIES, BUT WE’RE NOT!!!!”

    Of course, all I have to go on is my ‘trailer-sense’.

  • Luke Shea

    And, yeah. Ditto all the character journey/growing up/becoming a real man stuff. He’s sort of like a nerdy Tony Stark in that way. We get to enjoy what a hilariously non-functional human being he is at the beginning of the story, but we also are happy to see him grow and change and learn how to be a person.

  • Luke Shea

    I haven’t seen the film yet, but I basically trust Edgar Wright with my life.

    Anyway, I have read the books, and Ramona is never treated as a Trophy. In fact, all the combat doesn’t come until after Scott and Ramona are already in a pretty established relationship. The fact that Scott is willing to stick with her and fight off these guys *after* he’s already spent a (semi-sort-of-chaste) night with her, instead of running away in terror now that he’s got what he wants, I think says good things about his character’s heart and intentions, if not his judgment and critical thinking skills. I think the theme is much more along the lines of “love is a decision you have to keep making every day, no matter how many fistfights it requires of you” than “impress the girl with Darwinian violence!”

  • http://www.professorwhimsey.com victor

    Just to amend my earlier comments based on some of the earlier reviews: if that issue (Ramona’s own culpability in her past dating choices) is brought up in the comics and movie and treated maturely (as it sounds like it might be?) then I will be very impressed and see the movie henceforth!

  • http://www.professorwhimsey.com victor

    I have to say: I haven’t read any of the comics and don’t plan on seeing the movie precisely because the premise of it just really rubs the wrong way: so in order to “win the heart” of a girl, he has to fight her seven ex’s who are all evil? And why did this supposed-trophy of a girl date seven (seven!) evil guys? Does she not deserve SOME scrutiny for this? Is she not as much to blame as any of the “Evil” ex’s (or in fact, more to blame because she dated SEVEN OF THEM). And yet despite this obvious character flaw (evidenced through this very obviously pathological dating behavior) she’s still the ideal trophy woman? At some point she starts to look less and less like a trophy and more and more like a booby-prize.

  • Daniel B

    I have to agree with the Wright quote. Scott’s viewpoint influences the film – in many ways, it is the film. All the crazy, creative, video game styles and pop culture references on the screen are there because that’s how he experiences it. His immaturity is a big theme, and this relationship is his journey to maturity.

    Another interview with Wright and Mike Cera: http://www.aintitcool.com/node/46105

    Interview with Mary Elizabeth Winstead, the fought-over Ramona herself: http://www.aintitcool.com/node/46078

    Recurring themes in these, as well as Wright’s interview, are Scott’s viewpoint and immaturity, and Ramona’s lack of vulnerability. She’s the one in charge of this relationship (like some have argued Bella is in Twilight, except Ramona has a personality and isn’t sexually manipulative).

    And to top it all off, a review of the movie from AICN’s Mr. Beaks (admittedly subjective, as all reviews are) pretty much sums up my feelings in this argument.

    “As to the question of Scott’s likability, if he doesn’t begin this journey as a feckless dweeb then the whole purpose of the film would be undermined. There’s been an appalling trend in romantic comedies lately to write male leads as weak and worshipful [Exhibit A: (500) DAYS OF SUMMER], and Wright is clearly cognizant of this. Taking his cue from O’Malley, Wright portrays Scott’s puppy-dog courtship of Ramona as a grandly pathetic spectacle. Scott is no prize. And if you’re complaining that no woman worth getting on the planet would be into Scott, you’re not paying attention: for Ramona, Scott’s the pushover rebound from the manipulative Gideon Graves (Jason Schwartzman). That he lacks strength is the point. He’s an aimless shell of a kid who must taste his own blood – or get his life bar knocked down to “critical” – to become a man.”

    Full review: http://www.aintitcool.com/node/46104

  • http://www.midasandthemovies.com Lauren Wilford

    Johanson also makes the point that there is a double standard at work. I’d like to see a reply:

    “If Scott Pilgrim truly wanted to be about two young people navigating the hurts of their past to come together for a fresh start, then why doesn’t Ramona have to fight Scott’s exes… the latest of which seems pretty evil, too, at least on the curve this movie grades evil on? Why must her romantic past, meager as it is, be laid bare for his approval and vanquishing, yet he is not required to do the same for her?”

  • http://www.midasandthemovies.com Lauren Wilford

    You read MaryAnn Johanson? I think she’s great, and she really has a wonderful eye for the women in the movies.

    “Damsel in distress” has been here as long as we remember, but maybe illustrating that plot in the most postmodern of mediums will finally rub us the wrong way.

  • http://davidroark.wordpress.com David

    Having seen it already, I can’t understand how Johanson could reach such a conclusion:

    1. Ramona (Scott’s love interest) is never treated as a trophy. In fact, her character is just as developed as Scott’s. Plus, Scott isn’t battling the Seven Evil Exes to put her on display; he’s doing it because he, at one point, convinces himself that he loves her. He’s the vulnerable boy. She’s the less vulnerable woman.

    2. As Wright said, Scott’s intentions are definitely questionable, which is clearly what’s being satirized: the selfish, immature false concept of love that Johanson claims the movie is promoting.

    Read my review this Friday at Dallas Morning News.

  • Taylor Roark

    I see what those quotes might be trying to say, however, when I saw the movie, those ideas about women being trophies never crossed my mind. In fact, the ending suggests that he didn’t see her that way, as he hesitates to even pursue the relationship any further. In my opinion, Pilgrim’s character never suggests that he wants to fight off the exes just so he can win his woman trophy.

    As far as the relationship aspect, the only thing that concerned me is the idea of dating just to date and having sex just to see where the relationship could go…But obviously, most films have a very non-Christian view of romantic relationships.

  • http://opus.fm/ Jason Morehead

    I haven’t seen the movie yet — I really hope to see it opening day — but I have read the comic books, and there’s definitely some deconstruction going on. Sure, the books are drenched in video game nostalgia, and at least early on, it’s treated for laughs and comic relief (and does so quite well). However, as the comics progress, one of the key themes is that if he wants to get the girl, defeating the evil exes may be necessary, but it isn’t going to be enough. He’s going to need to “grow up” and realize the consequences of his thoughtlessness.


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