Paul, directed by Greg Mottola and written by Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, is about two English geeks, Graeme and Clive, who come to America to attend Comic-Con and explore alleged UFO sighting locations. On their journey, they come across Paul, an alien trapped on Earth for decades. With the government hunting them down, they must get Paul home safe and sound.
Paul is fucking hilarious. The humour is what shines the most here. It’s clever and intriguing; not one joke feels out of place or mistimed. But what else do you expect from Pegg and Frost? They know exactly what they’re doing when it comes to comedy. In hindsight, all the jokes are actually childish to an extent, but the film has a very mature core, hence it works. And this contributes to the overall theme; we all need to learn to let go of seriousness in life and occasionally embrace our childish side. The main characters start out as man-children and end up as more mature adults, without letting go of their geeky, nature. There’s even a scene where a child looks at Paul and accepts him and his existence, whereas every adult faints at the first sight of him. This brings me to running jokes. This movie has a few of them and knows precisely how many times they should be brought up. Like I said, Pegg and Frost know what they’re doing. Paul also has a very subtle message of care and humanity. Paul constantly cares for the human characters; he helps them physically, and emotionally and the only reason they succeed is because of care in return for him. It pushes them to get him home safely. But the priority of this film was laughs, it will get loads out of you.
The characters are the second biggest positive here. Paul is filled with extremely likable characters, main and supporting. Starting with the duo from the Cornetto Trilogy, as stated before, they’re man-children who learn to care and mature by the end. And during that journey, they keep us hooked by Pegg and Frost’s smooth and perfect delivery of jokes, appealing screen presence, and enjoyable chemistry. Even the rest of the cast is quite skilled in humour. Ruth Buggs’ (Kristen Wiig) comedy lies mostly in her cursing, but everything she comes up with is so unique and absurd, it works. The film does something special with the antagonistic characters. Everyone who chases the main characters down represents an exaggerated problem America suffers from. For example, Michael Bluth plays the role of the government out to capture an individual just for being different, not committing a crime. Throughout the film, he plays this serious agent on the lookout for Paul. This means his punchlines need to be delicate and sophisticated, and he plays them masterfully. He has some great interplay with the ‘Law Enforcers’ of America; cops played by Barry Berkman and Charles Boyle (who is quite familiar with this, I bet). Paul is also chased down by Ruth’s father, a devoted and almost brainwashed Christian, who tags Paul as the devil at first but by the end labels him the miracle of God. They’re even hunted down by some rednecks played by Todd Packer and Todd Alquist, who make fun of two random guys sitting beside each other for being gay, even though they are the exact same.
And of course, Paul. He is the most entertaining alien they could create. He represents the mature core mentioned earlier as he constantly helps his friends out by fixing physical impairments and helping them get over their emotional arcs, he doesn’t want to see them get in trouble because of him, and we’re even shown some people he prioritizes before himself. All this ironically makes him more human than alien and that’s where the genius lies. Seth Rogen plays him just like a real person, and that helps us connect with him, contributing to us as viewers being on board with everything the characters do.
From a technical standpoint, the film is more impressive than it seems. The direction doesn’t try to have a voice of its own as the makers realize the characters and humour are really what make the movie special. It goes for a very casual tone which seems like the perfect fit for this story. The editing and score work beautifully to hold the emotion of every scene, making it flow seamlessly.
As far as gripes with Paul go, I have very few. The themes of the film could be better realised and prioritised just a bit more. Obviously understandable they wanted to go for laughs, but a few places just feel like they missed the opportunity to make it more solid. The characters, while not surface-level, could stand to come off as a little deeper. Even one more layer of complexity would have made the film much stronger. And having their arcs culminate at the end instead of toward the middle of the film would make for a better experience. But they make up for it by being so enjoyably funny and appealing.
Overall, Paul will absolutely, 100% keep you laughing from the very first scene. The humour shines so brightly in the film that you don’t want it to end. The makers realized that entertaining characters, subtle comedy, and unique charm are needed for this movie to work, and they succeed in giving us just that.
You can stream Paul right here on Netflix.