Dir. Greg Mottola
Starring Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Kristen Wiig, Jason Bateman, and Seth Rogen
PAUL is one of those odd movies which seems to think it’s a different film than it actually is, but kind of works anyway in spite of itself. Basically, it’s a simple road trip narrative about two British nerds who pick up a wayward extraterrestrial (the titular Paul) and have to sneak him through the American Southwest so he can get back home. It seems to think it’s a wacky lowbrow comedy, and its stuffed with slapstick gimmicks and jokes about Alien balls and whatnot. But actually it’s closer to a kind of Spielbergian road trip movie about this unlikely group coming together and bonding. It’s only fitfully funny, but it has an endearing earnestness and good heart which keeps things engaging. The best moments are the quieter ones, where the film reveals a surprisingly rich, tender relationship between its characters.
Pegg and Frost do fine with their characters, but generously give most of the best material to their co-stars. The Gray Alien (conspiracy veterans should recognize him as a Zeta Reticulan) design of Paul’s face limits his ability to emote and cripples most comic possibilities in his expression, but Seth Rogen manages to make him endearing anyway, imparting his voice with a surprisingly world-weary slacker wisdom. Once Kirstin Wiig enters the picture as a one-eyed Jesus freak, though, she walks off with the movie. She gets most of the best jokes and the most compelling narrative arc, and makes the most of it, demonstrating again what a rare comedic talent she is. There are some awkward moments (director Greg Mottola of SUPERBAD fame is nowhere near the fastidious scene builder that Edgar Wright is) and the whole thing threatens to go off the rails in a haze of increasingly unnecessary references to other films, but the film and its characters are just barely likeable enough to squeak by with dignity intact. It’s a minor effort, but its old-fashioned charm is undeniable.