April 8, 2011

03.04: PAUL

I’m just gonna say it: it’s a little strange seeing Pegg and Frost together without the direction of Edgar Wright. Don’t get me wrong; it’s great that the three of them have grown and don’t need to rely so heavily on any one of the other of the three to produce a great film... it’s just this is the first time the two best buds are under different direction (from Greg Mottola - Superbad and Adventureland ). Mottola has his own, more laid-back, approach to story-telling than the fantastic, often dizzying wham-bam-bam approach of Wright. It seems... gentler somehow. Perhaps it's also that they're actually in an American film actually set in America this time - they're out of England now. 

Pegg and Frost are two geeks (Graeme and Clive) who, after attending Comic Con, jump in an RV and head off on a UFO pilgrimage across the States. This is where things are roughest, I found, as the film settles in to itself and possibly offers up a bit too much exposition a bit too readily.But, at this point, these two guys have to be acknowledged as one of the finest duos in cinema and their natural, easy chemistry carries us through.

Things really kick-off, of course, when they come across the eponymous hero: a little grey alien freshly escaped from 50 years in the Government's hands. He's kinda rude and smart-ass but also very charming. Seth Rogen is perfectly cast as Paul, his delivery of insults being never too insulting and bringing that easy-going stoner vibe he does so will and contrasting it with the two more uptight Brits. Frost is also, for once, not the clueless and coarse (but lovable) idiot. He still has the sweetness he brought to Danny Butterman in Hot Fuzz, but he never overplays it and Clive is an obviously intelligent (albeit Klingon speaking) man.

It is great to see that the Pegg/Frost writing team is different to the Wright/Pegg writing team. There's slightly different sensibilities in play here: yes, they're all interested in the same geek-centric stuff but Paul seems to be... more low-key than Shaun of the Dead or Hot Fuzz. This is, of course, also down to the less frenetic direction of Mottola. The laughs are never full belly guffawing ones, but they're plentiful. As you would expect there are a few geek references made throughout, and on more than one occasion I was the only one in the theatre laughing... These various references never feel like box-checking and they're always affectionate and tend to look towards the films of Spielberg and Lucas; two filmmakers who have had an obvious influence on the boys.

And I cannot forget Kristen Wiig as a one-eyed bible thumping Christian RV park attendant mistakenly abducted by the three fugitives. She's healed by the little grey guy (in more ways then one) and, through her character, you get a sense of the frustration these two English blokes feel about the American Christian Right. Her switch to continually extreme profanity may happen all too quickly, but she embraces it with such naive gusto, it's hard not to be charmed by her. The secondary characters are an embarrassment of comedy riches. The always great Jason Bateman is the lead agent chasing Paul, with Bill Hader and Joe Lo Truglio giving him some great foolish back-up. I love the work that Hader does and Lo Truglio has been such an interesting presence in so many recent films, I wonder if he'll get his own vehicle sometime soon. Jane Lynch, David Koechner, Jeffrey Tambor and John Carrol Lynch all offer up something interesting in their appearances.

The character’s journey mirrors that of the actor’s: they go from being fanboys and geeks to the object of affection for fanboys and geeks. Paul largely works as a strange, largely fruitful marriage of the Brit-geek humour of Pegg & Frost with the coarseness and improvisational feel of the Apatow school & SNL. This is a sci-fi road trip flick of America through the eyes of two Englishmen, filtered through an American director. It's intelligent, original, funny and offering up affectionate winks to many aspects of geek film culture. Affectionate being the operative word there.

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