Directed by: Greg Mottola
Written by: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost
Cast: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Seth Rogen, Kristen Wiig, Jason Bateman, Bill Hader, Joe Lo Truglio, Jane Lynch, Sigourney Weaver, Blythe Danner, John Carroll Lynch, David Koechner, Jess Plemons, Jeffrey Tambor, Luke Jackson, Paula LaBaredas, Justin Reed, Steven Spielberg, Ryan Ottley, Cory Walker
Genre: sci-fi, comedy, adventure
Graeme Willy: What’s the matter, Clive?
Clive Gollings: There is an alien in the kitchen making bagels and coffee.
Graeme Willy: Did you want tea?
Clive Gollings: No, I don’t want tea!
Graeme Willy: Right, because tea is weird in America.
The fanboy, is a deeply devoted and often bias being that has dedicated him or herself to an interest. Whether it be science or science fiction, there are few audiences that are more difficult to please then the fanboy. It is only when the fanboy writes his/her own script and is able to produce a film that all fanboys may come together and share a laugh that is solely understood by them. The film Paul (2011) is a movie made by fanboys, about fanboys, and for fanboys. Often drawing from classic films such as Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Indian Jones, and Star Wars, Paul is seen as a love letter to Steven Spielberg. This feel good buddy movie plays for laughs but underneath the comedy runs a jab at homophobia and extreme Christianity in America.
Paul follows Graeme (Simon Pegg) and Clive (Nick Frost), two sci-fi nerds, as they travel about America on a pilgrimage to Comic-Con and the most infamous UFO hot spots. Traveling by RV, the two set out on their road trip believing they are following their dream of visiting all locations of extraterrestrial importance. After crossing paths with two rednecks, Graeme and Clive flee only to cross paths with Paul (voiced by Seth Rogen), an alien on the run from federal agents. In desperate need of their help, Paul convinces Graeme and Clive to help him escape. Fumbling their way through America, the trio are aided by Ruth Buggs (Kristen Wiig), a Creationist Christian that they have accidentally kidnapped.
Simon Pegg and Nick Frost take the proven movie formula of the road trip and restructure the genre to fit to their science fiction tastes. While most road trip films rely on the same routine to produce laughs, Paul takes its time in developing its characters and why the audience should not only find them funny but also likeable. Paul does rely on fart joke type humor but Pegg and Frost have personalized the comedy by inserting their own brand of wit. This act helps keep the film within the fanboy realm without straying from its key audience. Pegg and Frost have created a film that is fast paced, moving quickly from scene to scene. Not only do they proved laughs but a dramatic and emotional edge to their well-written script. After providing a poignant scene that is needed to draw the audience in, the heaviness of the moment is quickly shifted by a perfectly timed curse word or comedic gag. It is only at the climax of the film does the movie become suddenly dark. It is during this time that the tone of the film shifts and no longer drives for laughs. While the scene is heavy for a comedy it is appropriate. There are very few ways to end a movie about an alien that fit not only within the scope of the fanboy realm but also within the sci-fi genre itself. Pegg and Frost are able to make scenes such as this and those with humor work because it is obvious that they are truly enjoying themselves. The duo come across as believing in the plot and what they are creating. The chemistry between the two only strengthens the believability of their roles as best friends. Aside from their comedic and acting ability, Pegg and Frost offer a film that is unpredictable and leaves the audience surprised when key aspects of the storyline are finally revealed.
Seth Rogan once again plays the fat stoner slacker as Paul. The stoner, ultimately his trade mark, Rogan is the perfect choice to voice the CGI created alien. It is important to remember that Paul has been stranded in American for the last fifty years and Rogan’s voice completely portrays an Americanized stereotype, overweight and all consuming. While comedy is the one genre that is well suited for Rogan, it has type casted him in a single role. Often and mostly playing the stoner, Rogan leaves his audience to wonder if there is more to the actor than being high. It is important that Rogan finds the opportunity to expand upon his roles or his career will be short lived. It is no longer funny and rather sad when the stoner ages out of his target audience and continues to play that role as a middle aged adult.
A highlight of Paul is the limited use of CGI. The only noticeable use of CGI is Paul but that is clearly obvious due to the fact that currently there are no pot smoking aliens walking about in the public, at least that we know of. It is a pleasure to see how well Paul was created and it is his appearance that demonstrates the time and dedication put into this film. From the texture of his skin to his third eyelid, Paul is an excellent example of the talent of his creators.
There is more to the alien, Paul then just the creation of him. Paul is a jokester with a crude sense of humor. He is more E.T. than Predator and bonds with his human companions by chatting about the mysteries of the universe. While utterly aware of the reaction his appearance brings to humans, Paul appears worn out from the whole idea that he is a space man and how people react to it. At the heart of his character, Paul simply craves conversation and the experience that good friends bring about. The emotional and very human side of Paul is not used for laughs but respected. Of all the characters within the film, Paul is the only one that fits better within society then that of his human companions. While Graeme and Clive have a difficult time interacting with society outside of Comic-Con and the science fiction genre and Ruth sees the world as defined by her religion, Paul sees the world beyond his comforts and in its entirety. In the end, it is a nonhuman that shows Graeme, Clive, and Ruth how to live outside of their comfort zone and in society.
Paul plays respectfully to the fanboy with in-jokes. The idea of the inside joke is based on humor that only a select social group understands or can identify within their community. An inside joke uses humor to bring together a community at the expense of outsiders. The power of the inside joke is that only a select few will have knowledge that others do not. The issue with this is that it further separates those who laugh at it. This is an issue due to the fact that the fanboy is already social separate from the rest of society. To be the only one or one of a very few to laugh aloud within a movie theater is a lonely feeling knowing that no one else knows or understands why you find something funny. Paul thrives on the in-joke. Ranging from the obvious to the obscure, the jokes are written so well that those who do not understand it will not feel like they are missing in on a laugh. A few examples of the in-jokes that Paul provides are the use of the Wilhelm Scream during a random moment that accompanied no action, upon entering a bar a western band is playing cantina music from Star Wars, Graeme and Clive reenact the fight between Gorn and Caption Kirk from Star Trek, and the warehouse scene from Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark. Other in-jokes center around the comic book The Boys, Karate Kid, and Star Trek: Generations.
There is a deeper and darker side to Paul. While focusing on laughs, Paul questions two issues that seem very American. This satirical look at America points toward gods, guns, and the idea that anyone who is different must be gay. While not bashing religion, Wigg’s character Ruth, is a Creationist Christian and only begins to question her beliefs once she meets Paul. Ruth initially does not think that Paul is real due to the fact that she believes that God created the Earth and man in his image. After Paul gives Ruth the knowledge of the universe does she question everything that has been told to her. While trying to find the answers to her know many questions, Ruth states that since there is no God that she can be sexual promiscuous because there is no sin. After spontaneously kissing and then groping Graeme’s privates, Graeme stops her and explains to her the idea of dignity without God. Aside from the concept of knowledge verses God, Paul takes on America’s idea and behavior toward homosexuality. Several scenes occur where Graeme and Clive’s sexuality is questioned. With every wink, wink, nudge, nudge that questioning parties give Graeme and Clive, they are met with the truth that the two are often oblivious to the fact that in America their close friendship is seen as gay. One example of this is when Paul goes on to make physical gay sex references and Clive does not understand his actions. A second example occurs after Graeme and Clive believe they are being chased by red necks who think they are gay. As they speed away Clive blurts out that what is happening is like the defining moment in the movie Deliverance and states that the red necks are going to rape them and then break their arms. Graeme replies to this by saying that he doesn’t want his arms broken. By not saying that he does not want to engage in gay sex, Graeme is implying that there is nothing wrong with two men making love. Pegg and Frost joke about homophobia in America with a respectful tone. While those within the film who instigate the question of the friends being gay are written to demonstrate that these are not nice people. Like jokes about blondes or the overweight, gay jokes are easy jabs at a group of people. The gay joke is an uncreative fall back when the writer cannot think of something funnier to write. This, thankfully, does not seem to be the case for Pegg and Frost. While handling the sensitive issue, Pegg and Frost are poking fun at those who are homophobic and not those who are gay. With such a focus on extreme Christianity and homophobia this leads one to question if this is how the rest of the world views America. Pegg and Frost are English and see America from a different point of view then that of an American. Paul is an opportunity to see America through the eyes of the world. It is a frightening view if hate takes center stage.
Paul is a valentine to fellow fanboys. While its humor is universal and appeals to a mass audience, its true purpose is to bask in all things sci-fi. Those who do not understand the in-jokes will enjoy Paul but those who recognize the many references in almost every spoken line and inch of scenery, will find a deeper joy that Paul brings. Ultimately sentimental and at times simply sweet, Paul embraces its unadulterated affection for its love of geekdom.
Paul receives an 8 out of 10