It won’t win any awards and it doesn’t do anything wildly unique (almost the opposite, in fact) but it is very funny and will keep you happily entertained throughout. You can’t really ask for more from a film that has a CGI alien as the main character.
It’s the story about two English sci-fi geeks who encounter a pint sized alien, called Paul, while on a road trip across America sight-seeing alien abduction spots. After picking up the loud- mouthed, well-hung (you’ll see), arse -bearing little E.T, the fun and games begin, with the trio being chased by bumbling government agents, Men in Black style spooks and a host of locals that they manage to annoy along the way.
As you’d imagine from two comic book geeks, (Pegg and Frost, not the characters they play) there are bucket loads of film references at play here and a host of classic Hollywood touch points, which makes the journey all the more fun.
Pegg and Frost’s first screenplay is also the first time that Edgar Wright hasn’t been in the director’s chair, which has allowed the pair to broaden their cast in to more of an ensemble , while at the same time making their own characters more accessible. It is, as you’d expect, impossible to imagine anyone else playing these parts, except Pegg and Frost. They are so familiar with the characters of Clive and Graeme that it is essentially them playing themselves- and that makes their friendship all the more real.
The script is hilarious. Full of great references (the cantina song from Star Wars played by a country band when they enter a bar; the Easy Rider style fireside chats; Back To The Future nods; ‘where we’re going you don’t need teeth;’ as well as Aliens , E.T, Close Encounters of the Third Kind-the list probably goes on…)
It is a knowing and affectionate love letter to modern cinemas great sci-fi films, and adds to the cannon by being a hilarious sci-fi road movie that also manages to- surprisingly- tug on your heart strings.
Kristen Wiig is very funny as the Creationist turned non-believing potty-mouth, the supporting turns are hilarious (with perhaps the character of Kristin Wiig’s father being the slight let down) but it is Paul, the CGI title character, who is, as you’d expect, the stand-out.
It is quite a risk to invest so much of the film’s funniest moments and plot on a purely CGI creation, but the filmmakers have managed to pull it off easily. Paul (voiced by Seth Rogen) manages to be likeable, mischievous, naughty, cheeky and funny every time he is onscreen. This is particularly impressive when you consider that he is rarely off screen. Pegg and Frost understand that Paul is the ‘funny man’ in this movie, so they selflessly wrote themselves as the more straight men to his antics. That’s not to say they don’t get their fair share of laughs, they do (“I don’t want to get fingered by the men in black.”) but they wisely chose to focus the attention on Paul, massively to the film’s credit.
So hands up to Spectral Motion/ Double Negative for creating a seamless CGI character. Without it, the film could easily have turned Paul in to a sweary Ja-Ja Binks.
After sitting back with a smile on my face after watching it, I was reminded of another film that I also loved, which is along similar lines- Galaxy Quest from Dean Parisot back in 1999. I’ll put Paul next to that film on my shelf, as two great examples of how to create a funny, playful film that satisfies the inner geek, without reference-overload. (And let’s not forget the great Sigourney Weaver, who is in both)
But Paul extends the frame of reference to broader popular culture and films (Lorenzo’s Oil, Duel, to name a few) They have looked at every Hollywood film they love and created something that is full of affection and laughs- and it is impossible not to get carried along for the ride.Follow @bennybentham