Paul taps into shared geek knowledge
Any movie written by Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, starring Seth Rogen and Kristen Wiig and featuring a scene set at Comic Con is right up my alley, so naturally, I was very excited for Paul. The film is a hilarious mixture of E.T. and Pineapple Express with a little Shaun of the Dead throw in for extra flavor.
Pegg and Frost star as Graeme Willy and Clive Collgings, a couple of English nerds who write unpublished sci-fi books and draw comic books. When we first meet our two heroes, they are delighting in the nerd Christmas that is San Diego Comic Con. Their interest in all things outer space is clear when they finally meet their hero, sci-fi author Adam Shadowchild (Jeffrey Tambour). The alien theme carries through as the duo continue their nerdy adventure, departing San Diego in a camper on a quest to visit famous extraterrestrial landmarks. Little do they know, they are about to have a run in with a genuine alien named Paul (Rogen) who tells them about his escape from Area 51. They take him aboard their RV and agree to help him return to his home planet.
Of course, the government wants to keep Paul’s existence under wraps and dispatches three agents (Jason Bateman, Bill Hader and Joe Lo Truglio) to acquire Paul and bring him back so they can perform more scientific experiments on him. As Graeme, Clive and Paul flee from the agents, they encounter a devout Christian named Ruth (Wiig) who runs an RV camp. Upon discovering Paul, her entire world view is shaken and she suddenly decides to become a sinner, swearing and trying to make out with Graeme. Together, the three humans experience a series of bizarre and hilarious events before reaching their destination with their alien friend.
We already know Pegg and Frost can be funny, both as actors and writers. Combine them with Rogen and Wiig, mix in a little sci-fi nerdiness and you’ve got a great comedy.
Paul plays to the nerd in all of us, throwing out references to classic sci-fi films and tapping into our shared geek knowledge. From the t-shirts to the scenery, everything seems to come back to memorable moments in Star Wars, Close Encounters and other significant sci-fi flicks from decades past. A scene set in a cowboy bar subtly mimics the cantina scene in Star Wars and another scene with Paul giving out movie advice is set in the storage room from Raiders of the Lost Ark. Even the rendezvous point for Paul to be picked up by the mothership is familiar. It’s so rewarding because we feel that the filmmakers dig these movies as much as we do and they’re able to reference them in original ways.
We rarely think of comedies as special effects movies, but the CG in Paul deserves recognition. While computers can make huge movies like Avatar, often times, the best CG is the kind we never notice at all. In Paul, the computer imagery blends with the live-action footage, making it seem rather realistic, despite the out-of-this-world premise. Paul’s movements feel real and the animation is able to capture the expression in each scene.
Of couse, the key factor for Paul is the cast. Everyone is good, not just the primary characters. Hader and Lo Truglio are a great pair of bumbling agents with authority because they don’t play their characters as dumb, just inexperienced and over-excited. Bateman is awesome as Lorenzo Zoil (yes, that’s the character’s name). He manages to capture that David Caruso cheesiness in a way that’s actually intended to be funny. A small cameo from Jane Lynch is like a bonus prize.
With such great writers and such a roster of talent, Paul fires out the laughs. Unlike a lot of buddy comedies, it isn’t all dude humor; instead, it’s nerdy dude humor. Paul isn’t just for nerds, but nerds are guaranteed to love it.