On Scott Pilgrim and character flaws

Once upon a time, back when I was still attending college at Edinboro, a movie titled Scott Pilgrim vs the World came out. At this point I had never heard of, let alone read, Scott Pilgrim. In my defense, which is difficult to say I suppose given how much other nerd culture I readily gravitated towards, I hadn’t really started branching out with what comics I consumed. Read that last bit as “I only read the Joker-related Batman graphic novels and Johnny the Homicidal Maniac at this point” and it’ll make more sense. Everyone I knew at the time happened to be rabidly frothing at their mouths about how the movie adaptation of these beloved graphic novels was the best thing ever. There was much outrage regarding the fact I’d not seen it. How dare I?

I did something I was very good at doing at that time; I deliberately avoided all and any possibility of seeing Scott Pilgrim vs The World for as long as I could. This plan served me well, or at least it did until I found myself in a particularly unpleasant mood. One trip to Walmart and a sudden treat-myself-purchase later, and I had the Blu-ray copy. There was probably some motivation there outside of just having an up-and-down experience at Edinboro, but that has since gotten lost with time. What I do remember is that I invited people over to my apartment, which had gotten to a point where it felt large and empty and very lonely at most times, and I watched this movie.

There are a lot of reasons I loved Scott Pilgrim vs the World. The rampant video game references were a big one. After buying all of the graphic novels, I realized how perfect the casting choices had been. The way Edgar Wright blended comic book style with the bigger-than-life scale of Hollywood movies. The quirky and charming music (hello, reintroduction to Metric via “Black Sheep”).

Above all else, however, I loved how all of the characters had flaws. This is more visible in the graphic novels, but it’s still quite present in the movie. Not a single character, main or supporting, in the universe of Scott Pilgrim is entirely flawless. It’s part of what makes Scott’s story so enjoyable; everyone’s a little screwed up, so it’s hard to not root for them…while also being a little disgusted with those very same characters at the same time. There’s no one paragon of good in this whole screwed up world of hipster-populated Canada (and the Subspace Highway that runs through Scott’s head).

At a glance, the story seems simple enough: Scott Pilgrim must defeat Ramona Flowers’ seven evil exes so that he can date Ramona. This would make for a fun, relatively fresh take on zanier romance if it ended there, but thankfully it doesn’t. Scott starts off dating Knives Chau, a seventeen-year-old high school student, as part of what is regularly referred to as the mourning period after Envy Adams dumped him. He cheats on Knives to date Ramona. Ramona’s evil exes all have strong motivation to be evil exes given the various circumstances surrounding their respective dumpings, none of which leaving Ramona much room to appear the hero. Even Gideon, the villainous founder of the League of Evil Exes, was just so wrapped up in his feelings that he ended up doing something stupid (and by stupid I mean completely over-the-top, super-screwed-up-motives stupid). There’s not a single character who isn’t guilty of some self-serving, self-focused plot points, which makes all of the characters–no matter how minor or major their roles–feel more real.

Ultimately, this is a love-letter to a movie that’s been out for what feels like forever, but I can’t stop appreciating it. It’s rare to find characters who feel like actual people in stories like this. Scott’s still a bit of a dick at the end, but he’s slightly less of one than in the beginning. Ramona may or may not have found the escape from her past she wanted to find so badly. As far as the audience knows, Wallace continued to find ways to steal Stacey’s boyfriends. And so on.

Seconds, Bryan Lee O’Malley’s most recent graphic novel, is a similar treasure trove of characters who feel more like people the reader could plausibly know in real life.

Before I start ranting and raving about more things, let me pose this question: how do you folks handle character flaws? Is there a point where allowing a character to be defined by their shortcomings feels forced or insincere? Or do these characters feel more real than those who are less prone to having less favorable traits?

I’m not ashamed to say I just watched Scott Pilgrim vs the World last night and I already kind of feel like watching it again. In hindsight, I probably shouldn’t have been so willing to not Scott Pilgrim vs the World a chance.

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