Paul movie thoughts

Seeing Paul I was reminded of a Saturday Night Live episode I saw once. It was an old episode probably in the first year SNL aired and Loren actually had to introduce a then little known English comedian by the name of Eric Idle. Loren introduced Idle as a member of a British comedy show called Monty Python who was in the states promoting their new movie called Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Loren then admitted that Monty Python was very influential in his vision of an American sketch show. From that point on the show was actually an interesting study in comedy as Eric tried to do American comedy but came across as way more brash than his SNL compatriots and then attempted to “Pythonize” SNL and everyone admitted that British humor didn’t quite work here. (Though I still put “Drag Racing” as a funny concept, I still say Ackroyd, Bulushi, and Idle dressed as drag queens and racing each other in heels was funny.) In any case the point was made that British and American sensibilities when it comes to comedy don’t necessarily track. Paul illustrates that point as it seems that both Simon Pegg and Nick Frost who wrote the script (and are British) weren’t simply trying to make a sci-fi spoof movie but an AMERICAN one and it shows.

It’s unfortunate that this movie is overshadowed by the two previous Pegg, Frost, and (sadly missing) Edgar Write movies Shawn of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. Both Shawn and Fuzz were sublime examples of both comedy and writing. Hot Fuzz really peaked in both regards as literally every line in the movie was either a setup to a future joke, a reference to another movie, or a hilarious payoff. It’s the lack of that kind of singularly British subtlety and restraint that makes Paul feel jarring. Too many jokes are simply crude, and crude in a way that are out of place with what could be an intelligent and heart filled movie.

Perhaps the two biggest examples come in the form of the movies antagonists. One of the great things about Fuzz and even Shawn was that every character seemed to be loved. Probably the best example is Dalton’s character in Fuzz. Here was a character that you knew from the moment you saw him was evil but his “evilness” was loved and played up to the max. (In no small part Dalton’s hamming, scene-chewing performance helped make “Sissy” a villain you loved to hate) But in Paul the “villains” get no love whatsoever. The “red necks” and “FBI guys” are so stupid and so pathetic as to suggest that the writers have never actually encountered either in real life and are operating on a very skewed idea. Even worse is Kristin Wig’s character’s Bible thumping father. This sadly is where a real sense of vitriol gets inserted into the movie where there needn’t be. The “Bible thumper” is quite frankly never presented as a concerned or loving father, and even worse creationism and even Christianity is viewed as ignorant and needlessly limiting. It’s a testament to Wig’s performance that her character isn’t as initially pathetic as she’s written. One would almost think to say to these guys, “You know that you’re trying to open a movie in a country where A LOT of people really believe this?” (The only nod to this fact was a particularly funny line from Paul the alien, “You just kidnapped a CHRISTIAN in AMERICA that’s like the worst thing you can do here.”)

What’s sad is when the movie plays on subtlety it’s actually quite funny. Maybe it’s just that I’m a geek but the scenes where Paul is talking with Spielberg in a massive warehouse, or the fact that the country band in the bar is playing Mos Eisley’s cantina song were the funniest to me. (And yes I did note that I was the only one in the theatre laughing at the latter) Even the more obvious movie references (“Boring conversation”, “Aliens”) were in their own way smart.

Another knock on the subtlety part of this movie was the forced use of Seth Rogan as the voice of Paul. I saw an interview with Pegg and Frost where they admitted they had wanted an “old man’s voice” for Paul and the studio wanted Rogan. (In the words of Zoolander “He’s so hot right now”) It isn’t a stretch to imagine that the duo originally envisioned Bill Nighy’s voice as Paul (Since he had roles in both Shawn and Fuzz) , and I could see him pulling off a better Paul. Much of Paul’s crassness would have been blunted if the audience were led to believe that Paul was an old soul (supposedly he’s been on earth sixty plus years) that had lost inhibitions due to age rather than being, well, Seth Rogan.

Even more disappointing is the fact that there is a heart-felt and all too real story underneath Paul. One of the major points of the story is Frost’s character’s resentment of Pegg’s character’s enjoyment in their circumstances and possibly moving past their mutual best-friend relationship. This has touches of truth in the fact that Pegg has had considerably more success than Frost (Say Star Trek?) and appears to be “going places”. Pegg’s confession that “This was the most fun I’ve ever had…” and the ending “I’m proud of you” hug could have been much more poignant and meaningful if not lost under the morass of inappropriate language use.

On the whole Paul shows more of what Simon Pegg and Nick Frost think of Americans than what they think of sci-fi. We’re at times ignorant, crude, inappropriate, and awkward. In a word we’re not British. It’s sad that they can at once be in love with and knowledgeable about the science fiction that our culture produces and at the same time be so ignorant and unloving.


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