Much has been said about Simon Pegg’s, Nick Frost’s, and Edgar Wright’s Three Flavors Cornetto trilogy: Shaun of the Dead (2004), Hot Fuzz (2007), and The World’s End (2013). It is a fun trilogy. Between Hot Fuzz and The World’s End, however, Pegg and Frost made another comedy romp featuring aliens that I enjoyed even more than all the Cornetto movies. This was the surprisingly good Paul (2011) directed by Greg Mottola, who has directed episodes of Undeclared, Arrested Development, and The Newsroom as well as feature films like Superbad (2007) and the underrated Adventureland (2009). Paul is like none of Mottola’s previous endeavors. This is far from a bad thing as Mottola still manages to deliver an excellent product despite being in slightly foreign territory.
Paul is a laid-back alien (voiced by Seth Rogen) who crash landed on Earth in the 1950s. Ever since, he has been living his life in an Area 51 government facility. He’s enjoyed his time on Earth despite his captivity by the U.S. government, but a recent discovery necessitates his escape. Paul has managed to send an SOS to his people to pick him up at a specific rendezvous point on a certain day. Meanwhile, a pair of lifelong British friends and comic book geeks, Graeme (Simon Pegg) and Clive (Nick Frost), are visiting the United States for the first time. The two are attending San Diego Comic Con before setting off in their RV to visit multiple sites of extraterrestrial significance. A run-in with Paul results in Clive and Owen somewhat reluctantly agreeing to help him get to the rendezvous point. The trip won’t be easy as they must avoid detection by government agents played by Jason Bateman, Bill Hader, and Joe Lo Truglio, who are hellbent are getting Paul back.
From the trailers, I thought Paul would be a stupid drug comedy filled with lame jokes. Drug comedies aren’t inherently bad, but the one seemingly presented in the Paul trailers didn’t look like a good drug comedy nor a film I would ever want to see. Boy, was I wrong. Paul, with its send ups to not only science fiction films but all things geeky, was actually right up my alley.
Graeme and Clive are two geeks who love comic books, science fiction films, and the mythos behind Area 51. In another film, they might be treated as sad guys who have been ostracized from so-called “normal” society. Paul makes it clear that these two men are sometimes perceived as weird by others who don’t share their interest, but the film doesn’t degrade the boys’ lives or make them out to be sob stories. It instead celebrates their interests and the joy they get from them. From the opening title shots of San Diego Comic Con, to the running gag reference to a made-up science fiction book series, to the subtly executed and hilarious Star Wars (1977) cantina joke, to the film’s touching and heartwarming revisit to Comic Con at the end, I was celebrating right along with Graeme, Clive, and Paul.
Add to that the road trip angle, which I love in a film when its well executed; the great jokes, such as the revelation that Paul has been feeding science fiction ideas to writers and directors like Steven Spielberg since the 1950s; the lovable characters, who have well acted dramatic moments to compliment the film’s comedy; and you have an excellent upbeat adventure with plenty to love. Crude humor here and there, like the language and a scene where Paul moons a guy, isn’t always to my liking. They aren’t ever horrible jokes, though, and they are always in character. Therefore they never detract too much from the rest of the picture’s fun and hilarity.
There is some possibly offensive material in the depiction of Christian fundamentalists with the characters of Ruth Buggs (Kristen Wiig) and her overprotective father, Moses (John Carroll Lynch). Ruth and Moses are portrayed as having a narrow view on life and the universe, which frustrates Paul. This could be seen as the movie making out that all Christians are ignorant and crazy, but the film never tries to say these extremes of religion are what all Christians are like. So I never got offended by it.
Maybe some who aren’t into comics and geek culture as much as me won’t enjoy Paul in the same ways I did. I would still give it a try. It has jokes and moments for everyone, geek or not. For those who do share my love for this type of stuff, I think you’ll see pretty quickly how much of Pegg’s and Frost’s own passion for geeky things they poured into this film, which they wrote together. It reminded me why I love loving the things that I do and why there’s nothing wrong with that. I enjoyed every second of Paul. You might just feel the same way.