Monday, February 21, 2011

Paul (2011)

Adorable, culturally savvy road comedy about 2 English geeks who, en route to Area 51, encounter, and befriend, a foul-mouthed alien as he attempts to flag down a spaceship home. Opening with our two heroes at Comic-Con, and riddled with referential dialogue, this is nearly a nerd-exclusive affair, with our protagonists being people who have always dreamt of the very adventures they end up going on. The two main characters are played by Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, and, as in Shaun of the Dead, and Hot Fuzz, their relationship has a very bromantic, borderline-homoerotic feel, which may prove uncomfortable for many hetero males on this side of the pond. Personally, I found their interplay in this one hyper familiar and immediately endearing; these guys, with Pegg's as the stumbly romantic lead and Frost as the sweet, but obtrusive lovable oaf could be England's Hope and Crosby, going on fantastical adventures with their own signature comic tone. However, once Paul enters the picture and takes center stage, the film becomes less about them and more about him, and, inevitably, less specific and more palatable for mainstream audiences.

I was worried that Paul's entire character would be in his description: "swearing, culturally literate wiseass." Luckily, as written by Pegg and Frost and voiced by Seth Rogen, Paul ends up having a very clear, likable identity, void of cliche and full of genuine comic energy. The gags they blatantly vomit at you in the trailer (I'm quite bitter at the amount of gags that are ruined in the newest red-band trailer that seem STUPID in the ad but are HILARIOUS in the final film), such as Paul's powers of resuscitation, are, in the film, well-earned and contain substantial payoffs. The whole film has a strong sense of cohesion to it, from the running gags to the development of the human trio's (they pick up a third human, played by Kristen Wiig) relationship with Paul. The action/chase scenes are played straight, yet contain humor and hardly break the flow of hte film. And the villains are very cleverly thought out and presented.

As the primary G-man on Paul's trail, Jason Bateman quietly steals the movie away from its headliners. He dials down his trademark boyishness and lays on a cold, "Men In Black" vibe that perfectly complements his deadpan delivery. Part of the non-nerd side of the equation, Bateman's character nonetheless squeezes in several subtle cultural references that had me, in equal measures, howling in laughter and weeping. The supporting cast is peppered with comic talent: aside from Wiig, Bill Hader and Joe Lo Truglio play Bateman's naiive local assistance, John Caroll Lynch is Wiig's psychotically possessive Christian father, David Koechner shows up as a decidedly un-Anglo-friendly hick, and Jeffrey Tambor, Jane Lynch, and Sigourney Weaver (!) turn in fun cameos.
However, Seth Rogen's work as Paul is really what bolsters down the movie and keeps it from being a neat, geek-friendly concept piece. While we all know he can deliver half-stoned witticisms like it's nobody's business (and he does), Rogen takes it a step further and really plumbs the depths of his character. As interpreted by Rogen, Paul feels less like a laid-back, cool dude, but rather a kind of sullen, lonely, somewhat reserved outcast; he is thoroughly culturally literate, down to understanding the humor of asking the guys to buy him Reese's Pieces (more on that later), but it seems like he has adopted these cultural elements out of necessity and neglect, rather than any sort of spiritual affiliation. He wants to fit in and connect with people, despite how he looks, and the film achieves a distinct poignancy when exploring the various relationships Paul makes on Earth. Rogen's inherent everyman qualities make Paul especially endearing and identifiable, and, I feel, easily acceptable and likable by American audiences (alas, we'll see.). While it is clear that E.T. was the jumping off point for this project, with its candy-coated male bonding and the lobotomy-happy G-men hot in pursuit, it does not settle for that films underhanded sentimentality, and never devolves into nostalgic or schmaltzy dreck; in the end, it earns its more heartfelt moments because of its unwillingness to pander or to fully remove comedy from the equation, which many similar films end up doing in their third acts. As is, it is a hilarious, moving, and thoroughly memorable sci-fi/comedy, and another phenomenal, instant-classic (at least, for me) entry into the Pegg/Frost canon, which, I pray, does not end with this wonderful film.

Highly Recommended for fans of Pegg/Frost's earlier films, Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, or of the comic cast in general. Director Greg Mattola has outdone himself here, topping his previous films Adventureland, Superbad, and, even, The Daytrippers in almost every way possible.

No comments:

Post a Comment