In which Candy asserts that Scott Pilgrim is really a romance novel

I recently lent my copies of Scott Pilgrim to a friend of mine—a delightfully geeky dude who, like me, works part-time in the law school computer lab. He’d never read the books prior to watching the movie; he loved loved loved the movie, and I knew he’d eat the books up. And sure enough, he spent a good part of our shift giggling like a girl as he ploughed through Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life and Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World. Ian’s manic glee piqued the interest of another co-worker of ours, and he asked us what the books were about.

“Slacker dude with a band dates a high-school girl because it allows him to skate by emotionally, then he meets a hot rollerblading delivery girl who’s literally the girl of his dreams, so he cheats on the high-school girlfriend, then dumps her kind of brutally, and then he finds out he has to defeat hot rollerblading delivery girl’s seven evil exes in order to be with her forever,” I replied.

Ian looked at me. “That’s not… You make it sound like a romance novel.”

I looked at him dead in the eye. “Well, yeah, that’s because it kind of is.”

Ian hung his head a little. “Well, I guess… I don’t know. It’s just…”

And then a bunch of first years came in needing to have their computers set up so we stopped talking about it.

Here’s the thing: Scott Pilgrim isn’t just any kind of romance novel: Scott Pilgrim is an old-school romance novel.

1. The protagonist starts out painfully vulnerable, naive and young.
2. Falls in love with an emotionally distant, mysterious, sophisticated figure who is trying to escape a murky past (with only limited success).
3. They both have to overcome some serious adversity to gain true love, and the protagonist grows up a little in the process. The love interest doesn’t really want to change the protagonist, she just

wants to tame him

wishes he’d get a job.
4. For various reasons relating to Beaucoup Drama, they experience a Long Separation. The protagonist goes through a bit of a meltdown.
5. Then there’s a glorious reunion and reconciliation, where all serious obstacles are cleared, and the protagonist gains some maturity For Realz.
6. Fade to HEA.

And just as with an old-school romance, I’m left wondering: why the hell did they fall in love with each other? Why is Ramona, who’s seriously hot, want a schmuck like Scott? Scott’s… kind of a whiny, useless putz, super-sweet evil ex-slaying skills aside. I enjoy Scott Pilgrim as much as I do despite the protagonist: I love the self-aware and self-referential storytelling style, I love the non-stop music and video game references, and especially I love the crap out the supporting cast, especially Wallace Wells, Scott’s hilarious gay roommate, and Kim Pine, Scott’s deadpan and acerbic high school sweetheart. It’s very much a romance written by a dude, and it lives out dude fantasies: useless schmoe uses awkward charm to win over a lady fair, promptly after which he gets to engage in a series of escalating video game battles with her evil exes. And while it’s hard to deny that it’s satisfying on an atavistic level, I can’t quite shake the nagging why of the love story—why are they in love? But that’s a problem I tend to have with most old-school romances, whether dude- or chick-centric. To the series’ credit, however, Ramona is no shy and retiring flower waiting to be rescued from the scourge of her terrible past lovers. Ramona is, in fact, capable of kicking serious ass, and the ultimate showdown has both Scott and Ramona battling side-by-side, which is a pretty sweet change from the boy-rescues-helpless-girl-who’s-validated-only-when-she’s-in-a-relationship trope that we still see in a lot of love stories.

The movie, while brilliant and pitch-perfect in every other way (oh my God the MIDI sound effects were amaaazing), suffers from the Oh God Why Is This Hot Girl Dating This Useless Douche problem even more acutely, because casting Michael Cera was a terrible, terrible decision. Make no mistake: I love Michael Cera. He only has one mode, but I’m usually a fan of that mode; nobody gets Awkward Comedy Timing the way he does. He was perfect in Arrested Development, and he was perfect in Juno. Thing is, Scott Pilgrim has a certain brash charm that Cera completely fails to pull off; what the role needed was Zach Braff in his early 20s doing a somewhat less bright J.D. from Scrubs, and not an infinitely skinnier, infinitely more awkward George-Michael Bluth. (Seriously, Michael Cera: eat a sammich. Eat MANY sammiches. You’re terrifyingly thin.) So anyway, the Scott Pilgrim movie, which in some ways was actually better than the comic, became yet another iteration of Useless Passive Schmuck Gets Hot Girl.

To Scott Pilgrim‘s credit, the movie and the comic present him as persistent and dorky, not outright manipulative; although Ramona and Scott lack all chemistry, Scott never enters Being Nice1 to the Hot Girl in the Hopes of Hot Makeouts territory. And make no mistake: most Nice Guys, at least as portrayed in pop culture, are manipulative. It’s why it’s one of the most pernicious cultural tropes we have. Being nice to a hot girl in the hopes of a payout through her sexual favors is, well, gross. It is in fact the opposite of nice: it is rank opportunism in sheep’s clothing. And this trope is everywhere, especially in comedies scripted by dudes. Otherwise excellent movies like Kick-Ass have been ruined for me because the protagonist, who’s usually kind of adorable and kind of dorky, leaps headlong into Oh Jesus You’re Creepy and Deserve a 2×4 to the Head territory when he outright lies or manipulates the girl he has a crush on in the hopes of getting closer to her, with the understanding that if he hangs in there long enough, maybe he can git ‘er done.

The Nice Girl trope is equally annoying, but not quite as gross, and you don’t see it nearly as often in movies (though you sure do see a lot of it in romances): the Nice Girl depends on her unsophisticated (sometimes even outright mousy) charms to win over the dashing figure of her dreams. She’s attractive to the hero mostly because she serves as a foil to his Evil Exes, with their perfect coiffures and sexually experienced pasts and impeccable manicures. There’s a lot less outright manipulation, and more a reliance on the pure goodness of her Magic Hoo-Hoo radiating through all adversity. Which, when it comes down to it, is exactly how Scott gets Ramona Flowers: his Magic Hoo-Hoo (and, to be fair, superior combo attack sk1llz) won the day. Once Ramona had a taste of the Magic Hoo-Hoo, there was no going back. All the sophisticated charms of her Evil Exes were as dust and ashes.

So here’s some news for you nerds out there: Scott Pilgrim is totally a romance novel, and you know what? So many romances would be improved if the heroine got to fight the hero’s Evil Exes and made them explode in a shower of coins and power-ups. Just sayin’.

1 And by “nice,” I mean “not physically abusive”.

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Random Musings

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  1. 1
    Anony Miss says:

    Great post Candy! And so good to see you again – I was worried you’d fallen off the face of the earth!

  2. 2
    Chicklet says:

    CANDY CANDY CANDY HI CANDY!

    Ahem. *scoops up dignity from floor*

  3. 3
    Claire says:

    My favorite part of Scott Pilgrim?  The fact that its got EVERYONE TALKING ABOUT COMICS!!!!!! 

    When comics and romance combine, I am super happy.

  4. 4
    Blue says:

    I loved the movie, plus I love the fact that it’s set in my city (the library in the film is my local branch! I was so excited to see it on screen that I nearly clapped, lol).  Must check out the comics now.

  5. 5

    I agree with Claire! Romance and Comics combing = major happiness!

    Also, SO glad someone agrees with me on Michael Cera as Scott Pilgrim. He wasn’t as bad as I was expecting, but I was more wowed by the actress who played Knives. She was AMAZING!

  6. 6
    willaful says:

    I have the world’s most embarrassing Mom Crush on Michael Cera, but I agree, he didn’t quite pull Scott off.

  7. 7
    Isabel C. says:

    Yes and yes.

    I loved the movie. But I lost all sympathy for Scott when he got stalker-tastic at the beginning of the film.(Seriously? Not letting the girl get on with HER JOB until she gives you her number? I’d have punched him in the mouth and then seen if Amazon could put him on some kind of blacklist.) And his later neurosis—OMG she’s DATED BEFORE ME WOE—did not endear.

    It’s sort of a tribute to the movie that I thought it was awesome despite that. Usually this sort of thing prompts a three-hour rant and/or the throwing of small objects.

  8. 8
    Betty Fokker says:

    That was an awesome review! However, I think it should be noted that a proper heroine’s hooha is a Glittery HooHa, not merely a magic one. It is the Glitter that blinds the hero to All Other Women.

  9. 9
    Jennifer says:

    Woot! A Candy post!

    Yes, seconding the Glittery HooHa correction. And man, I agree with this post in general.

  10. 10
    SB Sarah says:

    Hells to the yes on Cera, both eating many fatty sammiches and on being the same awkward-timing guy. I really loved “Nick and Norah” and everything else I’ve seen him in, but it’s always shades of the same. He’s like Jennifer Aniston only male and without The Haircut.

    The other thing is that I can’t quite classify him. He’s not quite a beta male and he’s not quite subtle-rogue like Seth Rogan…. He’s a definite other. Other what I have no idea.

  11. 11
    sweetsiouxsie says:

    Hi Candy!!!! Nice to meet you in cyberspace! I liked the movie, but it gave me such a headache! I used to keep my fingers in my ears at rock concerts. I liked Michael Cera. Why can’t the skinny geeky looking guy get the cool chick every once in a while?

  12. 12
    Candy says:

    Cera’s not alpha or beta or omega. He’s just FLOPPY. And there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that; it’s just that he’s become the go-to guy for awkward nerd heroes, but not all nerds are floppy, even if they are awkward as hell.

    @willaful: Dude, my embarrassing crush is on Johnny Simmons, who plays Young Neil in the Scott Pilgrim movie. If I’d had my druthers, he would’ve played Scott, not Cera, and Cera would’ve been awesome as Young Neil. I first noticed Simmons in Jennifer’s Body, and have felt like a bit of a pedo ever since.

    And yeah, I agree with a lot of people that it reflects well on the moviemakers that the movie is as amazing and enjoyable as it is despite the terrible miscasting of Cera as Pilgrim. Wallace, Kim and Knives deserve special mentions (their delivery was perfect, and it also helps that the actress who plays Kim looks exactly like a flesh-and-blood version of the character). Jason Schwartzman also does a great job hamming it up as Gideon. But the parts that made me squeal with happiness were the fight sequences. SO. GOOD.

  13. 13
    Candy says:

    @sweetsiouxsie I have no problem with the skinny, geeky-looking guy getting the chick all the time. I am in fact a real-life connoisseur of skinny, geeky guys (the running joke among my friends is that I can’t date another programmer unless he’s proficient in a language none of the other dudes I’ve gone out with have programmed in, which at this point leaves COBOL and maybe FORTRAN). I just don’t like pop cultural depictions of skinny, geeky-looking guys resorting to sleazy Nice Guy tactics in an effort to get the hot girl. If the movies showed the skinny, geeky-looking guy wowing the girl with his charm, wit and genuine warmth, or if the skinny, geeky-looking guy opting to date an equally geeky, awkward girl instead of some flavor of Generic Hot Girl, this particular character type wouldn’t bug me so much. In short: hot geeky boys are being sold short by these depictions, AND it’s sending the wrong message, i.e., if you’re nice to a girl, you can expect a payoff via her sexual favors.

  14. 14
    Lori says:

    Candy!

    OK, I got nothing else because I haven’t seen the movie. It’s just nice to see Candy again.

  15. 15
    peggy h says:

    Read the first comic (because there was a free app that had it!), sort of intrigued but not yet enough to get the other volumes (thinking about it).  Haven’t seen the movie.

    But mostly, I’m posting because it’s been so long since we’ve “seen” Candy (in fact, I was totally a lurker during those days).  So just wanted to say….Hi Candy!!!

  16. 16
    Betsy says:

    Umm, THANK YOU for calling out Kick-Ass about that.  I loved that movie, but I had problems with the Nice Guy (TM) aspect of it.  Also, I hated how he flew away with Hit Girl lying in his arms, passive damsel style, at the end.  Fuck that.
    Anyhoo, I’ve read some of the Scott Pilgrim books but haven’t seen the movie yet, but I totally agree with what you’ve said here.

  17. 17
    SB Sarah says:

    I’m giggling so much at the use of “floppy,” and it’s making me think of Cialis commercials with those people on the hillside in separate bathtub.

  18. 18
    oneflewtoofar says:

    OT It’s so good to have you back Candy! To be honnest lately I was wondering how to politely ask if you were still around or if Sarah was the only Smart Bitch left.

    As for SPvW, loved it loved it loved it but my problem in the film was less with scott and more with ramona. She was very much a manic pixie dream girl. I couldn’t figure why, other than pre-destination, scott or any of the 7 evil exes would fight to the death for her.

  19. 19
    quichepup says:

    I still have to see Scott Pilgrim, not because of the comic or Cera but because I’m an Edgar Wright fan. I think we all understood this is a romance but did not say so because that would frighten off too many people (OK, men).

    I was a geeky girl who married a skinny geeky computer nerd *cough*  years ago. In a way I’m glad skinny geeky guys are coming into their own but sorry for the geeky girls who now have more competition for their favors. It also amuses me that SP reverses the traditional roles.

  20. 20
    AmberG says:

    I would have liked him more if he ended up with the girl he ACTUALLY wronged. There’s a lot of talk on this blog about whether the hero of a romance actually manages the level of redemption that we need him to get to in order to deserve the girl, and in the movie at least, Scott Pilgrim never did. He seriously hurt Knives, and then… there was no consequences. There was no nothing. He said, “whoops, sorry about that,” and left her in the dust while he went off the hot girl he just met, and has no chemistry with.

    It would have made more sense to me if he went through all that crap only to realize he should have stayed with the girl he was with. And I would have liked him more as a person.

  21. 21
    Keylye says:

    It’s amazing how much I agree with you.

    FYI: In the Kick-Ass comic, Dave gets beat up by Katie’s new boyfriend for being such a creeper. It’s kinda hilarious. And so much more appropriate.

  22. 22
    Robin says:

    First and most important: CANDY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Second: We didn’t get to use computers until Spring semester of our first year. Wah wah wah.

    Third: IMO, Shia LaBeouf, when he was being discovered during the filming of Matt Damon and Ben Affleck’s Project Greenlight, had that awkward with an edgy vulnerability quality Cera doesn’t have. Not that LaBeouf has it anymore –  the arrogance of fame has robbed him of that momentary loveliness – but it was there for a minute. And it was cool.

  23. 23
    Kaetrin says:

    Hey Candy!  Nice to have you back!

    Scott Pilgrim hasn’t come out in Australia yet I don’t think – I’ll have to keep my eye out for it.  Sounds like hubby would get a kick out of it too.

  24. 24
    redcrow says:

    So many romances would be improved if the heroine got to fight the hero’s Evil Exes and made them explode in a shower of coins and power-ups

    “So many romances would be improved by creative impact from Kunihiko Ikuhara”, you mean?

  25. 25
    Candy says:

    @AmberG the problem with Scott Pilgrim, in the books and in the movie, is a lack of chemistry with any of the girls he’s involved with EXCEPT for Kim Pine back when he was in high school.

    @Robin I’ve only seen Shia LeBoeuf after he became annoying; my urge to punch him in the face remains unabated. Especially for the last Indiana Jones movie. And Transformers. Oh man. PUNCH PUNCH PUNCH.

    @everyone: Thanks for welcoming me back.

  26. 26
    Nerem says:

    Kick-Asses problem was because the scriptwriter didn’t feel like what happened in the comic (which the scriptwriter wrote) would fit in a movie.

    What happens in the comic book was the same as the movie up until he confessed about lying to her. At which point she called one of her many horrible boyfriends and he beat Kick-Ass up.

    About Scott Pilgrim, I’ve found that Scott is one of those extremely assholish ‘Nice Guy’ types who isn’t manipulative. He’s a jerk plain and simple, but the comic calls him out over and over and his big thing was learning how to not be such a ‘Nice Guy’. The movie did it pretty fantastically, with him owning up about his doubletiming and such in such a direct way.

    As Kim put it, “Scott, if your life had a face, I’m punch it.”

  27. 27
    Kathy says:

    I hated the Scott Pilgrim movie.  HATED, HATED it, for the reasons you describe.  Michael Cera’s twee little dance moves, his oh-so-precious lack of a job or any other redeeming characteristic.  I never bought for a single second that Ramona would be interested in him.  I am sick to death of the “nice guy” trope.  Ugh.  I wish I had that two hours back.

  28. 28
    JJ says:

    I loved the movie—hated the casting of Michael Cera too. I think your point about Zach Braff was great; he’d be a perfect Scott. I never read Scott as nerdy-awkward-sweet-shy so much as just…a slacker Guy. (I know plenty of Guys. They are separate from Dudes, Boys, and Men. Cera, in my mind, is still a Boy. So when he was making out with Ramona, I felt distinctly disturbed.)

    P.S. Welcome back, Candy!

  29. 29
    Pam Regis says:

    Just double checking—the HEA arc finishes up in the second book, correct?  For ordering purposes…

  30. 30
    BlueBow says:

    I’m a little bit surprised by all the hate for Michael Cera. Given, I haven’t read the comics yet and that might make a difference…

    I went into this movie kind of thinking, “Oh great, another movie where Michael Cera will be doing the same shtick he always does in EVERY MOVIE HE’S IN—” Much to my surprise, I thought it actually seemed like he was doing something else, acting more in the mindset of the character than himself for once~

    I also didn’t think the Scott/Ramona relationship was so very shallow or lacking in chemistry, though I can’t put my finger on it. They made sense to me, to the point where I was glad to see them walk off in the end to start again. Maybe because their relationship doesn’t seem very finite quite yet. He doesn’t so much get the girl as get the chance to be with the girl and see if it will work.

    I’ll quit my blathering now. :D

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