Synopsis: Simon Pegg and Nick Frost (Hot Fuzz, Shaun of the Dead) reunite for the comedy adventure Paul as two sci-fi geeks whose pilgrimage takes them to America’s UFO heartland. While there, they accidentally meet an alien who brings them on an insane road trip that alters their universe forever.
For the past 60 years, an alien named Paul (Seth Rogen) has been hanging out at a top-secret military base. For reasons unknown, the space-traveling smart ass decides to escape the compound and hop on the first vehicle out of town — a rented RV containing Earthlings Graeme Willy (Pegg) and Clive Gollings (Frost).
Chased by federal agents and the fanatical father of a young woman that they accidentally kidnap, Graeme and Clive hatch a fumbling escape plan to return Paul to his mother ship. And as two nerds struggle to help, one little green man might just take his fellow outcasts from misfits to intergalactic heroes.
Release Date: March 18, 2011 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Genre(s): Comedy, Science Fiction
What if aliens existed? And what if instead of being discovered by dark-suited government agents (Men in Black) or adorable moppets (E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial), one of these aliens was picked up by two dyed-in-the-wool, “I Want To Believe,” British science fiction nerds traveling from San Diego Comic-Con to Roswell, New Mexico on the geekiest roadtrip of all-time? Welcome to the world of Paul, a film that celebrates its nerd cred while satirizing the genre it so obviously adores. The road tripping nerds are Clive Gollings, a middling science fiction writer played by Nick Frost, and Graeme Willy, the illustrator of Clives’ books, played by Simon Pegg. BFFs in real life and in the film, Pegg & Frost also wrote the film, which plays both as a genuine expression of love of cinema and science fiction, and as a natural extension of the duo’s on-screen chemistry and comedic interplay.
Pegg & Frost are probably best known for starring in two comedies by director Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz). Both films were aggressive genre mash-ups (of zombie and action flicks, respectively), characterized by Wright’s hyperkinetic visual style, break-neck editing, and jam-packed pop culture wit. Paul‘s director is Greg Mottola, whose comedies, Superbad and Adventureland, underscored the bittersweet undercurrent of adolescent friendships and romances. Like Mottola’s previous work, Paul is much more concerned with relationships and personal development than it is in visual inventiveness.
Graeme and Clive are taking a very personal journey: America is the seat of American pop culture, which they regard in semi-religious esteem, and their RV tour of the Southwest is something of a spiritual pilgrimage (as much as it can be for avowed atheists). When the two men meet Paul, the only surviving alien of a 60-year old UFO crash (voiced by Seth Rogen), Graeme and Clive must confront proof of the beliefs they’d previously held but never actually considered could be proven. (Imagine a Christian meeting Jesus on Earth.) Complicating matters of faith vs. science (or science fiction), the pair also encounters Ruth (Kristen Wiig), a woman kept repressed and naive by her religiously devout father (John Carrol Lynch). Ruth begins to question her faith after meeting Paul, whose very existence seems to contradict her entire worldview. Chasing Paul and all of his new friends are some classic sci-fi baddies: Jason Bateman as a stern, impersonal government operative and Sigourney Weaver (queen of all science fiction movies) as his shadowy superior, known only as The Big Guy.
The most surprising aspect of the film is the successful integration of Paul, a CG alien that actually achieves a modicum of humanity. Truthfully, I mostly forgot the title character was animated at all. Most films attempt to dazzle with their visual effects, but Paul wisely went the other way: the alien’s design doesn’t mesmerize, but it also doesn’t distract. The CGI never looks bad and it never looks great; it just looks, well, normal. Rogen’s casting is an odd one, but the combination of his voice minus his physical presence actually works better than most comedies starring the “real” Seth Rogen. Paul is an alien with extraordinary extraterrestrial knowledge and abilities, but during his time on Earth, he’s adapted to become a normal guy. The character’s design is playfully familiar (it’s a crucial plot point that Paul, all gray skin and big eyes, looks so recognizably alien so as not to freak out any humans who may encounter him). But the no-frills visual effects serve the larger purpose of teasing out Paul’s innate humanism, the joie de vivre and laidback self-confidence he inspires in the film’s human characters.
Paul is a very funny film, but your mileage may vary depending on your knowledge of science fiction films and geek chic. (If you can laugh at the background jokes during the Comic-Con sequence, you’re golden.) The film is not entirely dependent on genre recognition because the central character-based comedy is strong enough to sustain the film on its own.
In fact, Paul juggles three types of comedy: character-based humor tinged with a touch of pathos, pop culture reference for nerds, and lowbrow/stoner comedy (a prerequisite for any Seth Rogen film). Each flavor works on its own level, although some work more successfully (and frequently) than others: my preference is for the sci-fi in-jokes, but I’m not above laughing at audible flatulence. The gross-out humor works best when it’s integrated in character development, as when Ruth, rebelling against her strict religious upbringing for the first time, begins to experiment with the delicious absurdities of foul language. The resultant obscenities are funny, inventive and mostly unprintable, although “a bagful of tits” is one of Ruth’s more memorable inventions.
That sense of fun and experimentation is evident in each branch of comedy. Pegg & Frost have a loosey-goosey rapport born of real-life friendship and lend the film a warm familiarity as both writers and performers. The most resonant humor in the film is derived from their relationship. Whether it’s the gentle barbs at Pegg & Frost’s own inescapably alien Britishness (their hyper-English character names are a nice touch), their encyclopedic knowledge of and childlike enthusiasm for the ludicrously named science fiction author Adam Shadowchild, or juvenile sight gags about the duo’s ambiguously gay relationship, Paul functions best when it’s centered around Graeme and Clive.
Cast and Crew
- Director(s): Greg MottolaNira Park
- Producer(s): Nick FrostSimon Pegg
- Screenwriter(s): Seth Rogen (voice of Paul)Simon Pegg (Graeme Willy)Jane Lynch (Pat)
- Story: Kristen Wiig (Ruth Buggs)
- Cast: Jason Bateman (Special Agent Lorenzo Zoil)Sigourney Weaver (Voice)Blythe Danner (Tara Walton) Bill Hader (Haggard)Nick Frost (Clive Gollings)Chris DickensLawrence SherJefferson Sage
- Cinematographer: David Arnold
- Production Designer(s): Special Motion
- Costume Designer:
- Casting Director(s):
- Music Score:
- Music Performed By:
- Country Of Origin: UKUSA