Apr 11

Paul (2011)

Paul comes to us from the minds of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, the comedic duo at the heart of the riotous Shawn of the Dead (2004) and Hot Fuzz (2007). Like these two preceding adventures, it does not disappoint. Directed by Greg Mottola, Paul is a particular sort of comedy. In an age when comedies try so hard to elicit nonstop laughs from their audiences, its ambitions prove, surprisingly, a little more modest: while Paul may not make you laugh out loud more than a few times, it will definitely put a smile on your face from opening to closing credits. A most welcome thing.

Graeme Willy (Pegg) and Clive Collings (Frost) are two sci-fi enamored gentlemen from England, who travel to America to attend Comic-Con, the renowned comic book convention, and afterward travel from town to town in a rented RV, exploring famous UFO sites. On their way, they expectedly cross paths with an actual alien named Paul (voiced by Seth Rogen), on the run from men-in-black type agents. The agents’ mission: capture and return Paul to the military base where he has been kept captive since he crash-landed on Earth several decades ago. Moved by Paul’s story, Graeme and Clive vow to help him return home. The trio is eventually joined by Ruth Buggs (played by the consistently hilarious Kristen Wiig), the daughter of a trailer-park owner. While Graeme, Clive and Paul are perfectly likeable characters, Buggs effectively steals the show and the big laughs, undergoing an amusing transformation from fundamentalist Christian to levelheaded agnostic on the journey.

While the story is fairly standard, the execution is flawless. Paul is a road movie, following its characters from point A to point B. To be sure, this has been done and redone. But Paul doesn’t attempt to reinvent the wheel here, opting instead to do the road movie justice. I remember watching an episode of Cupcake Wars on the Food Network where the judges told the contestants: if you insist on baking us a vanilla cupcake, go right ahead, but in this competition, it better be the best vanilla cupcake we’ve ever tasted. I believe this philosophy applies to most artistic endeavors: if you’re going to do something that’s already been done, go ahead, but make it the best it’s ever been done. And Paul does this with the road movie. It takes the generic here to there formula, throws in a couple of amiable characters that slowly but steadily grow on you, thus making it a unique pleasure to hop on for the ride from A to B.

Like Shawn of the Dead and Hot Fuzz before it, Paul pays homage to its genre, in this case, science-fiction and fantasy films and television shows. According to a website I used as a post-film reference, the film is brimming with allusions, some less obscure than others. I was proud of myself for recognizing a few, but certainly not the majority. Still, this shouldn’t affect your enjoyment of the film. Paul is not a parody, where the laughs are contingent upon the audience “getting it.” No, Paul is its own interstellar thing, giving a few reverent nods to all those other interstellar things that came before it.

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