Review of Paul
April 13, 2011
Anyone calling Paul charismatic, humorous, or timeless is probably suffering a terrible case of confirmation bias.
After attending Comic Con, Graeme (Simon Pegg) and Clive (Nick Frost) rent an RV and visit numerous alien hotbed locations. After an eventless handful of alien-friendly stops and pictures of empty landscapes, their trip comes to an abrupt stop when a car in front of them rolls off the road. When they get out to help the driver, they are shocked by whom they find behind the wheel: Paul the alien (voiced by Seth Rogen). Paul convinces them to take him north to save him from government agents (Jason Bateman, Bill Hader, Joe Lo Truglio) who are on the hunt to take him back to Area 51.
The beginning of the movie starts off with some promise. Paul stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost as adorably chubby, slightly awkward yet noble geeks with an enthusiasm for all things alien. How could it go wrong? I’ll tell you how: Paul. For some reason Pegg and Frost, who also wrote the film, imbued Paul with human emotions but did not give him any real depth. Many of the characters in the movie, including Paul, comment on the attractiveness of a comic book character with three breasts. This implies that Paul’s sexuality is similar to that of human beings. He seeks adoration. He tells jokes. His words say that he is afraid of being caught by the people who held him captive. For the majority of the film, Paul basically offers the emotional depth of an upper-middle-class junior-high-school student. Then, out of nowhere, for no explicable reason, he develops a sense of duty at the end of the flick.
Rogen’s vocal acting bounces between stoner and surfer, making Paul dreadfully off-putting. The alien species he belongs to obviously neither values nor has facial expressions or body language. Making the situation even worse, the sound editing makes Paul sound like he is speaking directly into your ear throughout the entire movie because no matter where he is standing, Paul sounds like he is two feet away. Even though this is a subtle problem, it is one that can cause an audience member to be taken out of the moment without being able to exactly pin down the reason. It is one of those times when your brain throws up red flags because something is not quite right but leaves you to figure out the problem.
The other characters are written as equally inconsistent. They bounce from wise to ridiculous, brave to bumbling. I believe that we rarely venture outside of our essential character while expressing our individual ranges of emotions from bravery to cowardice, but the characters in Paul are written in such a way that we never get a clear understanding of their emotional parameters.
People who report having been abducted by aliens often express a feeling or memory of being probed in the anus. This baffles many skeptics because it is not clear what exactly an alien species would learn from the inside of a human colon. Sure, any species who could travel to our world would probably be far beyond our own advancement, but why the structure of waste removal mechanisms? Still, this meme seems to be a reoccurring theme of abduction stories. I wonder what the aliens would do with extensive knowledge of the human bowel. Do they base their energy source on waste? Do they want to know about our eating habits? Do they find the shape of our feces particularly attractive (like diamonds)? Can they predict the health of a potential slave species by conducting colonoscopies? If so, they may find our cracks calling. But it seems unlikely that our crap is their unobtanium.
One of the saving graces of Paul is that it does not try to offer an explanation for the reported penetrative activities of off-worlders, but it does make it clear that Paul is as frustrated about the probe meme as skeptics. Paul completely and utterly dismisses the idea of aliens conducting anal probes. When face to face with Paul, numerous people beg to not be sodomized by a probe, which seems to annoy Paul. He repeatedly asks them what they think he would learn from an anal probe.
Occasionally, Paul does accidently bumble into moments you wish you could believe as true in the world of the characters. Some jokes hit the nail on the head. Some moments have marginal sincerity. But anyone calling Paul charismatic, humorous, or timeless is probably suffering a terrible case of confirmation bias. Even though Paul wants to be heartfelt and charming, the writing too often drops cold, pointless, annoying jokes that sap any warmth developed during the story.