SXSW Review: Paul
Paul is like all those comedies I used to like, the kind where they were just plain good. They had a little of everything and just worked. That makes it harder to write about since there’s no hook except overall solid work, but I’m up to the task.
Graeme (Simon Pegg) and Clive (Nick Frost) are Brits visiting Comic-Con. On the road to Area 51, they meet an actual alien Paul (Seth Rogen). Paul needs their help but won’t tell them much at first. At an RV park, they pick up Ruth Buggs (Kristen Wiig), a devout Catholic who experiences an awakening when she witnesses the existence of Paul. Agents Zoil (Jason Bateman), O’Reilly (Joe Lo Truglio) and Haggard (Bill Hader) are on their tail.
Pegg and Frost, who wrote the script, deliver on all the sci-fi, comic book and general movie references you’d hope for. You’ll hear familiar music, lines of dialogue and even a reference to spoilers themselves, incorporated seamlessly into the narrative. Try to catch the obscure Capturing the Friedmans joke. It’s not all mainstream. Clive and Graeme also recreate some familiar action moments that I just know Frost and Pegg were saving since Hot Fuzz (the age old “grab my hand” bit.)
It’s not ALL sci-fi, so there’s plenty to amuse general audiences, although it never sells out the target audience for a mainstream laugh. They do sex jokes, drugs jokes and some good old fashioned immaturity, mooning through windshields and swearing creatively. I love the running gags. Whenever a joke happens more than once, it’s instantly funnier to me.
Paul is a great character. He’s the everyman alien so he gets indignant about alien clichés, and he has base needs like anyone. The CGI looks real and interactive with the scene and characters. It never feels like they had to construct a scene to fit the effect. Clive and Graeme are delightful, childish foreigners and Ruth has a sweet arc in between Wiig-y profanity outbursts, which are also awesome.
Like the classic comedies, there’s a bit of depth with Paul confronting Ruth’s creationist beliefs. Paul actually heals Ruth, which is sweet considering at that point in the story he hates her. Is it predictable? Yes, in that I knew where the story was going, but I’d also call that paying off. Most importantly, it’s all funny.