Despite being one of North America’s most recognizable and highly touted cities – and the place I proudly call home – Toronto has never received the recognition it justly deserves in the movies. Sure, a truckload of Hollywood features shoot there, but Toronto is routinely used as a stand-in for some American urban metropolis, usually New York or Boston. Matthew Vaughn’s raucous “Kick-Ass” and Louis Letterier’s “The Incredible Hulk” are among the legions of recently released blockbusters that haven’t made the barest of efforts to conceal Toronto’s many landmarks (I’m looking at you Sam the Record Man). Until now that is. Leave it to Edgar Wright (he of “Shaun of the Dead”) to make a film that plays like a list of Toronto’s greatest hits. Though it’s too early to gauge, Wright’s “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” may very well prove to be to Torontonians what “Annie Hall” is to New Yorkers. Based on Canuck Bryan Lee O’Malley’s series of Toronto set graphic comics, the film revels in all that is grand and grungy about Canada’s largest city. It also helps that Wright rounded out his cast with some big name Toronto-bred Canadians – Michael Cera and Alison Pill.
For Americans, see this list as a learning opportunity. Read, and if you’re unfamiliar with anything I point out, I encourage you to venture off to the North and explore. For Canadians, just be glad that the city is actually represented in a summer film.
1. Lee’s Palace
One of the film’s climactic showdowns where Pilgrim witnesses the fame of his hot ex, first hand, takes place in Toronto’s alternative music venue Lee’s Palace. Everyone from Nirvana, Oasis, The Smashing Pumpkins and Red Hot Chili Peppers all made their Toronto debut on the Palace’s stage. Located on Bloor Street West, the venue has two floors. First floor plays host to live bands, while the second floor, dubbed ‘The Dance Cave,’ serves as an hipster dance club four nights a week.
2. Pizza Pizza
Granted I’ve only been living in the U.S. for a year, but I’m hard-pressed to find a pizza company that has a hold on a regional market the way Pizza Pizza does in Ontario. Pilgrim and his band of misfits dine out at one of the chain’s many Toronto locations late in the film. The Canadian franchise has a whopping 500 locations, mainly throughout Toronto, with a few sprinkled in Quebec and around western Canada. Founded in 1967, the chain was born in Toronto, and currently ranks as the most popular pizza joint in Ontario.
3. Second Cup
This coffee franchise, started in Canada in 1975, played a prominent role in O’Malley’s comics, so naturally Wright didn’t change a thing. Pilgrim’s sister works as a barista at one of their over 360 nationwide locations, and is frequently seen in the film talking on her cell while at work. A Canadian variation on Starbucks, the Second Cups of the Great White North have a more homely, lived-in feel to them. They offer pretty much the same drinks and goodies, and hold the title as the largest Canadian-owned specialty coffee retailer.
4. Loonies and Toonies!
Every time Pilgrim decimates an evil ex throughout the course of the film they explode into a shower of Canadian coins, namely Toonies and Loonies. A Toonie runs you for two dollars. A Loonie one. Come to Canada and your pockets will get heavy real fast. As an American, it’s good to go into the film knowing that Canadian currency doesn’t resemble it’s south of the border counterpart. A guy seated behind me at my screening exclaimed after the first battle “But it’s not real money!” Don’t suffer the embarrassment.
5. Casa Loma
Lastly, one of my favorite Toronto spots, the majestic Casa Loma, pops up at several points in “Pilgrim.” Originally a grand residence for financier Sir Henry Mill Pellatt, Loma was built from 1911 to 1914. It currently subs as a museum and Toronto landmark that overlooks the city. It’s telling that the castle grounds serve as the location for the duel between Pilgrim and Lucas Lee (Chris Evans), a fictional action star. Everything from “X-Men,” “Chicago,” and “The Pacifier” have shot there.