When I decided to see “Paul,” I had misgivings and preconceptions, but was left surprisingly entertained and amused.
Normally, I do not like anything that even remotely involves Simon Pegg and Nick Frost together in a film. Aside from “Hot Fuzz,” I find that most of their movies are for niche’ – read: British – audiences and do not translate well into the American mainstream.
The same can be said for Seth Rogen, whom I have a long standing love-hate relationship with his affable, do-no-harm stoner shtick. He consistently goes between making funny heartfelt films such as “Knocked Up” and “Zach and Miri Make a Porno,” to wretched trash like “Pineapple Express” and “Funny People.”
Fortunately for Rogen, “Paul” swings back around into one of his good cycles and is a movie that is surprisingly entertaining and, at times, touching.
“Paul” follows the tale of artist Graeme Willy (Pegg) and his best friend Clive Gollings (Frost), as they travel across the American Southwest in search of famous UFO hotspots. However, their bro-mantic road trip takes a sudden turn into the weird as they meet wayward alien, Paul (voiced by Rogen), as he is running from shady government entities.
The film is an amazingly layered shout-out to nerds, geeks and science fiction lovers. “Paul” spoofs and satirizes a remarkably high number of science fiction films from the last 30 years and ends up being one of my favorite parts of this movie.
The Good: Backstory and Supporting Cast
Paul is a fairly creative character in both writing and in design. He appears as a four foot tall, green skinned, almond eyed, foul mouthed, reefer-smoking alien. Rogen really brings this character to life and is probably the only person who could play him with any credibility.
As back stories go, Paul’s is well written and suggests that since his capture by government agents in the 1970’s, he has been giving ideas to writers and film makers like Steven Spielberg in order to “make the public more accepting of alien life.”
It’s pretty funny, after this moment you begin to notice some of those little toungue-in-cheek references – some are obvious, some aren’t – like a particular piece of background music, or a certain truck one of the characters drives.
Now, one cannot talk about “Paul,” without mentioning the supporting cast which includes the comedic talents of Jason Bateman, Kristen Wiig, Bill Hader and others who perform small, noteworthy cameos that have to be seen and shouldn’t be spoiled.
Kristen Wiig and Jason Bateman are the two main supporting cast members who really stand out.
Wiig, plays a one-eyed “Jesus freak” who is kidnapped by our intrepid gang and shown a bigger world outside of the RV campsite she runs. Even though it feels like she was thrown into the middle of the film to prevent it from being a total sausage fest – which is was – she makes herself known to the audience and gets many laughs along with several running gags throughout the film.
Bateman on the other hand, is one of the primary antagonists. He convincingly plays a straight-laced, by-the-books, government agent who takes orders from “The Big Guy.” While Bateman doesn’t say a whole lot during the film, he gets a couple good one-liners and some practical gags that are truly hilarious. I honestly think I was getting more entertainment out of his consistent deadpan than I was anything else in the movie.
The Bad: Bludgeoning the Audience and Language
I have no real issue with any of the technical aspects of this film. There were no glaring plotholes, and the pacing of the film was fairly stable along with the shooting, the effects, the comedic timing and editing.
No, I have two really really big issues. One is with the film directly, and the other is about certain things I saw while waiting for the movie to start.
The first among those is with Kristen Wiig’s character. Remember how I mentioned that the character is a “Jesus freak?” Well, I wasn’t joking. Upon the discovery of Paul, her character has a full level psychotic breakout that delves into the evolution debate and various other sticky topics.
It’s not the subject matter that I take issue with; it is the way it was presented and carried out that really put a damper on the movie. The writers and director are essentially beating the audience over the head with a giant club while saying, “We are right you are wrong. The end.” The movie chugs along perfectly fine until this moment of utter seriousness that was totally uncalled for and in bad taste.
My second gripe is this:
Disney and Pixar have utterly ruined any animated film ever to being taken seriously by an American audience.
Why do parents think it is automatically OK to take their five-year-old to see a R-rated film upon seeing some type of animated character on a movie poster? This is a facet of life that astounds and amazes me, and I do not know how to properly convey how foul-mouthed Seth Rogen’s and Kristen Wiig’s characters are – even if it’s a running joke with Wiig’s character.
Let me put it this way; there are combinations of words that have been put together in “Paul” that even someone who is fairly fluent with swearing – like me – will be left blushing. It is not the language itself that bothers me however, it is the fact that parents find it acceptable to let their children come to a film like “Paul.”
Are theaters just too scared to remind parents of the rating system? Do we just have no common decency any more when it comes to applying the rating system? Or is it that these people are just horrible parents?
Final Thoughts and Favorite Moments
Paul is a well written film that is both funny and touching. The supporting cast in this film really stands out with a who’s-who of comedic talent and brings credibility to jokes throughout the movie.
Sure you could go see the standard cookie cutter fare that is “The Lincoln Lawyer” and “Limitless,” but it is not very often that you will be able to see a smartly written R-rated film like “Paul.”
While it does have some shortcomings, it is nothing that will derail the entire movie.
My favorite moments in “Paul” boil down to three things: Nick Frost speaking Klingon, Jane Lynch and Steven Spielberg references.