Saturday, October 29, 2011

We disagree (slightly): Paul


2011, Greg Mottola

(click for David's take)

Unlike David who was expecting not to like this, I was quite ready and eager to enjoy this film based on the talent involved. Written by (and starring) Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, it's about a couple of British sci-fi geeks who venture across the pond to hit up comic con and do a Winnabego journey cross-country to hit up all the geek landmarks but are shanghaied by an alien, Paul (voiced by Seth Rogen) on the run from the government who has kept him captive for the past 60 years.

I don't think there's a show or film that Pegg has had a hand in scripting that I haven't enjoyed, while director Greg Mottola was responsible for Superbad, which is top five in the best teen comedies of the aughts. Pegg and Frost have earned a lot of goodwill from their on-screen pairings in the past (from Spaced to Hot Fuzz), Rogen as an Apatow disciple also has solid cache, while Jason Bateman will perpetually be coasting off Arrested Development's genius. SNL veterans Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig have turned in a handful of excellent comedic support roles over the years, not to mention Wiig's undeniable starring turn in Bridesmaids this year. This film is loaded.

Yet, I didn't love it like I had hoped.

Pegg and Frost load the script down with nerdy tropes and geek references, but they're kind of stale, obvious, as if it were a script for a big-budget Big Bang Theory movie. The films geek laughs just didn't work for me. What did work were the character moments, the crisscrossing interactions between Pegg, Frost, Wiig and Paul were all tremendously well developed. Wiig's engagement with Paul over religion was a high point of the film, while Paul's bonding moment with Frost was genuinely touching. This isn't an ignorant alien, but one who has studied both pop culture and human interaction. He may be crass, a little hot-tempered but he's a genius relationship counsellor. I was actually anticipating the little grey alien to be the film's weakness, considering how well-honed Pegg and Frost's bro-mance has become over the years, but it's Paul that is the heart and soul of the film.

The film's weakest aspect is Sigourney Weaver as the head of the agency chasing Paul. It's not the role but Weaver herself. Mercifully she is only given minimum screen time, but Weaver, despite being a wonderfully gifted dramatic actress, is entirely not built for comedy. In every comedic role I've ever seen her in (except maybe Ghostbusters where she's not exactly asked to be funny), it's like she's trying to hard to not be dramatic, and in turn is more hammy than funny in her performance.

The film is a giant homage to the 1980's style of adventure-sci-fi comedy of the Short Circuit and Goonies variety, and it stays true to both the style and rhythms of that generation of filmmaked. Though it came out this year, it feels like a lost film from childhood. It's a shame it's so blue, because it otherwise would be a great film for kids. In fact, I think because it is so blue, it's less appealing overall. There is purpose to the cursing (Wiig's lapsed Christianity provides the funniest example as she ignorantly strings random blue words together), but it's still not precisely necessary.

It's a cute, rather slight comedy, not bad, I just expected more.