Movie Review: Paul
By Edwin Davies
February 21, 2011
In Shaun Of The Dead and Hot Fuzz, the intertextuality is all in the background because the characters themselves don't have an understanding of the genres being referenced; Shaun is not overly familiar with zombie films and Hot Fuzz makes a point of showing that Nicholas Angel is unaware of most action movies. Since Clive and Graeme are science fiction geeks - one being a writer and the other an illustrator - most of the references come from their mouths with a degree of authority, which in turn makes them significant and suggests that the audience should know to what they are referring. Let me put it this way; someone watching Paul might not be annoyed that they don't understand why the Five-Note firework (a nod to the piece of music played in Close Encounters that allows humans to communicate with the aliens) is appropriate for their situation, but they would not really understand why it is significant to the characters in that moment, which deprives the scene of meaning and the audience of enjoyment, if only briefly.
Having said all that, I saw it with someone who has never seen Close Encounters and they laughed as much as I did and said afterward that they did not find the references obtrusive. (It might have helped that they knew that I was a handy geeky resource they could call upon for explanation. Perhaps they should display "See It With A Geek" signs prominently in all theaters screening the film.)
Enough theorizing, let's cut to the chase; Paul is a fucking funny movie. I mean, it is very funny. Pegg and Frost's script is full of great comic set-pieces that are as elegantly constructed as they are hilarious. They will slowly introduce seemingly unrelated elements into a situation, let them settle for a moment, then combine them in surprising and clever ways. The plot of the film is often very predictable - If you make a point of saying that your alien character can theoretically bring people back to life, I defy anyone not to guess what will be required of him at the climax - but the jokes rarely are, thanks to their unwillingness to go for the easy gag or callback when they can do something more interesting and unexpected.
It also helps that they have such a great cast to help them realize their script. Pegg and Frost breeze through on the effortless chemistry that has been their trademark since Spaced, which often helps the film get through the weak, awkward first 30 minutes, whilst Kristen Wiig, Jason Bateman, Bill Hader and Joe Lo Truglio are all more than capable of capturing the wacky yet understated tone that the film relies on. Seth Rogen does some fine voice work as Paul, who is also realized with special effects that are believable without being awe-inspiring. There are also a group of terrific cameos in the film which I won't spoil, even though one of them is given away in the awful trailer currently doing the rounds.
It's not great art, but it is good fun. I laughed loud and often throughout and I wouldn't mind watching it again, which is the most important factor in determining whether a comedy is any good, aside from whether it is funny, and Paul is funny.