The Unicorn Scale: Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

By Jennie Roberson

April 03, 2021



Photo credit: Image/Universal Pictures

Well, hey there, unicorns and gamers alike! I hope all of you are feeling happy and healthy and wise.

I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned that a perk of this reviewing bi media gig is that I get suggestions all the time. I truly love that I’ve been lucky enough to cover a whole helluva lot of queer media in this space, and there are definitely some film and show suggestions that come up over and over again.

But one suggestion has been so consistently held up as an example for years that I finally decided to work on it. So with that in mind, let’s pop some quarters into the machine and take a look at Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World.

Before I press the start button, let’s go over a few ground rules. First and foremost, there will be SPOILERS in this review for the 2010 film. Second, I am not going to dole out as many content warnings as I normally would (hooray for PG-13 films making my job easier!), but I should note there is dated use of queer labels as slurs. Finally, if this is your first time here — or you’d just like a refresher on how I’m rating the media — you can head over to our handy-dandy definition page HERE for the lowdown.

All good? Splendid! Let’s get to it.

Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World is the film adaptation of a popular comic of the same name written by Bryan Lee O’Malley. It focuses on Canadian twenty-something bassist Scott (Michael Cera) as he finds himself both entangled with his new love interest Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and her gaggle of pugilistic ex-paramours. In order to win Ramona, Scott is forced to battle with each of her "seven evil exes." 

While Scott Pilgrim was a flop when it was originally released, it is now considered a cult classic — particularly among (but not limited to!) younger moviegoers. To whit, it has carved out a respectable midnight movie status — taking residency up until COVID-19 times — at the hipper, smaller movie houses nationwide. Not only that, but the flick recently gained renewed interest after a particular makeover scene’s audio became the perfect backdrop for hair transformations on TikTok.

So the film’s cultural status remains relevant. But does its depictions of queerness still pass muster? Let’s find out.

A comic book depiction of the characters with Scott in the middle and the secondary characters next to him all in battle pose.
Image/Oni Press

What I Liked:

The influence of Ramona Flowers cannot be understated. Both Winstead’s charisma and Flower’s cool aloofness inspired years of copycat styles and cosplays. Hell, I watch Ramona and still think she looks like a BAMF a decade later! There’s a lot to be said for that je nais c’est quoi having that much of a shelf life.

I also appreciate that Ramona consistently and repeatedly corrects Scott when he assumes all her exes are men. One of the best tests of character to me is how people refer to others when they’re not around — be it respecting their pronouns or standing up for a friend to someone they will never meet. It speaks to a certain integrity — even if, in these moments, it is also tied to Ramona honoring her own sexual history.

Also, hey — good to see (then-nascent) #bicon Aubrey Plaza pop up in a foul-mouthed supporting role! (Don’t worry, parents — whenever she swears, it’s bleeped out and gets a black censor box splashed across her mouth.)

Side note: It’s interesting to see Ramona having a job ten years ago as an Amazon delivery person on roller-skates compared to what the profession looks like now during the pandemic, rushing about in their smiley-faced trucks.

Aubrey Plaza as Julie Powers, looking intently in front, ready to start saying curse words.
Image/Universal Pictures

What I Didn't Like:

Look. I get how, when this movie first came out, bi representation in media was paltry at best. So I understand how the reveal of Ramona’s bisexuality probably seemed sensational to the audience. But there’s a lot to unpack about how Scott Pilgrim handles queerness (and does some Asian characters dirty, but that’s a different topic). In truth, there are a ton of tropes at play throughout the entire film — which makes sense since it is pitched as a satire of both videogame structure and older, sexist relationship stereotypes. But it’s still hard to see Ramona:

  1. Never break out of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl mold.
  2. Blatantly failing the Bechdel test, never getting a scene away from Scott or discussion of her exes (besides a sentence about changing her hair color — doesn’t she have any hobbies, dreams …?).
  3. Fall into the infamous “just a phase/bicurious” line of reasoning for her own explanations. (To be clear, I’m not saying there is anything wrong with questioning, but she dismisses the whole damn relationship in front of the same ex.) No one likes to be thought of as an experiment — not even Psycho Lesbian villain tropes like Roxy (Meg Whitman).
Scott and Ramona standing against a green wall. Scott is crushing a red drinking cup in his hands, Ramona looks at him with calm expression.
Image/Universal Pictures

But this is not the only instance where queerness is played for laughs or dismissed in a slut-shaming way. After defeating Roxy (with help from Ramona — one of the few places this passive character shows any agency in her own story), Scott immediately accuses her of having slept with the whole bar. And earlier, despite the fact Ramona saw Stacy’s (Anna Kendrick) boyfriend go from being with Stacy to making out with Scott’s roommate, Wallace (Kieran Culkin), in the span of three minutes, Ramona still calls that boyfriend gay

Confused? Don’t you worry — the movie also makes sure to use “gay” as a synonym for “stupid.” (I don’t care that the usage came out of a gay tertiary character’s mouth — it was played for laughs, and cheap ones, at that.) Scott refers to Ramona’s previous queer relationship as “a sexy phase.” Roxy’s demise is diminished to an orgasmic weak spot which is pure cringe to watch. Oh, and Roxy immediately refers to Ramona as a “has-been” once she dismisses their previous relationship.

Did a bi ex piss in one of the screenwriter’s Cheerios? The level of vindictiveness against queer people in this movie is astounding, reaching disaster-bi levels sapped of all joy that I have not seen in quite some time.

Oh, and of course: it doesn’t even bother to use the full term “bisexual” anywhere, despite the fact it takes any chance to attack the orientation it can get. What’s the Canadian term for “blech”?

Ramona, Knives Chau and 3 other secondary characters cut side by side to show a shocked expression on their faces.
Image/Universal Pictures

The Rating:

Despite the fact I just ripped this movie a new coin slot, that doesn’t mean I didn’t find it entertaining. Edgar Wright is one of the cleverest, most energetic filmmakers working today, and I will always line up for his opening weekends because I love to see his inventiveness. Plus, it’s pretty damn funny to see pre-Captain America Chris Evans sporting a chinstrap. (Cap in a chinstrap?)

If nothing else, Scott Pilgrim serves as a fascinating queer time capsule, straddling both the 2000s era of burgeoning queer characters in a post-Will & Grace world and the 2010’s nuanced bi characters that emerged in the new golden age of television. So I do get why it was held up as an example — it was a sparse field for a very long time, and Ramona was readily available to non-rated-R audiences. 

Scott and Ramona and Knives Chau a secondary character standing side by side ready to fight an unseen opponent. Ramona has her fists up.
Image/Universal Pictures

But we have so many other, better examples available now — characters where a love interest doesn’t basically immediately say “that’s hot” when they mention they’re bi, but instead accepts their whole humanity. Considering the original comics fleshed out Ramona a lot more, Scott Pilgrim feels like a missed opportunity for great queer representation.

Now that makes me bi-furious.

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