When it comes to comedy, it is usually something that encompasses a lot of other genres. Films like Ghostbusters are often categorized as a comedy even though they have enough science-fiction and special effects elements that you would expect to be shelved with speculative fiction. The beauty of a good speculative fiction comedy is it will reach a bigger audience, but Paul doesn’t really live up to that.
Paul begins with its main characters Graeme Willy (Simon Pegg) and Clive Gollings (Nick Frost) going to Comic-Con. I have never been to this convention, but they show it as a Mecca for geeks. The two of them are British tourists who are geeks, and they love it there. Before I get into this film, let me say that the actors, Pegg and Frost, have done some very successful films and they wrote this film. They were stars of a British comedy series called Spaced, and then did Shaun of the Dead, a zombie satire film. Then they did one of the most hysterical films of all time, Hot Fuzz. Simon has had acting jobs that are quite successful, including playing Scotty in the new Star Trek films, and he co-wrote Hot Fuzz. Both Frost and Pegg are credited for writing Paul.
Therefore, Paul feels like a film that only Frost and Pegg wanted themselves in. I am going to assume that these characters are just like the actors, based on other films that I have seen them in. Anyway, these two geeks decide to take an R.V. road trip to other geeky locations in the Southwest, like Area 51, Roswell, and you get the picture. On the way, they meet an alien who calls himself Paul, and he looks like your typical big-eyed, big-headed alien that appears in a lot of science fiction films including Men In Black and Independence Day.
From there, Paul becomes three types of movies. First, it is the old plot of “we have to hide the alien”, which is popular in E.T., The Iron Giant, and that awful Mac and Me film which is mentioned during Paul. The conventions of those films are a kid who hides the aliens, but Paul uses two men who probably have some growing up to do. Another convention is the government going after the alien in order to keep it a secret, for some odd reason.
The second satire is the “road movie”. This formula has been done to death so much, I don’t even need to give examples. It always involves characters who don’t get along and learn to get along as they travel. In this case, Paul‘s main characters are actually good friends, and it is the road they travel with Paul that cause them to not get along.
The third type of movie is a bromance. In fact, there are a lot of characters in Paul who believe that the two main characters are attracted to each other. Including Paul himself.
Paul the alien is played by Seth Rogen, and Pegg and Frost clearly wrote this with his actor in mind. If you aren’t familiar with Seth Rogen, he usually plays the same type of slacker in every film he is in, and Paul is no stretch. This film had a lot of talent, including Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader, both from Saturday Night Live. Also involved is Jason Bateman, from Arrested Development, and he is very welcome. Then Sigourney Weaver shows up, as she has a habit of showing up at the last minute in films, such as Cabin in the Woods.
If Paul is supposed to satirize the alien film, it feels very forced. There are a lot of jokes that are references to other science fiction films, which means this film is more an homage rather than satire. Unlike Hot Fuzz, which is a satire of buddy cop action films, Paul cannot stand on its own two feet as a film.
There are some things that Paul addresses that most films don’t. For example, Kristen Wiig’s character is a Christian woman, but her seeing Paul the alien causes her to question her faith. Now, I have to question how they portray Wiig’s character’s faith, as you are first introduced to her with a Bible-thumping father that she lives with in a trailer park. Yes, this is a terrible stereotype. Worse yet, Wiig’s character wears a shirt that shows Jesus shooting Charles Darwin in the head. Do I need to comment on that?
Now, there is a scene where Paul apparently imparts all his intelligence with a touch. Part of it is showing people that evolution is real. Even if it is, this doesn’t necessarily mean the absence of God. It seems that Wiig took the news of no God rather well. Is this meant to be a slam on religion or just humanity in general? Even Paul the alien doesn’t seem to know what lesson there is to be learned. Is that the point, then?
I am not certain what could have been improved with Paul. Although there is an interesting twist at the end with Jason Bateman’s character, there isn’t anything different here, no matter what satirical eye you look at it with.