Before I’d even seen the film, my review had pretty much written itself. I reckoned I knew more or less how I was going to feel about Paul:
Parting ways with Edgar Wright, Pegg and Frost go to America, just as Wright did with last year’s Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. But where that embraced the modern American tradition for awkward indie romance (with, y’know, musical scenes and big effin’ action), Paul moved into the current Apatowian sensibility of American comedy. Crasser than their previous work, with the looming influence of Seth Rogen and a big Hollywood budget, it seems the pair have taken on more than even they can handle. But most of all, feeling the absence of Edgar Wright’s direction, just as keenly as Scott Pilgrim missed Pegg’s tightly-structured writing.*
In essence: queasy bromance, two stars; as Nick Frost has so excellently put it.**
Paul is all tied up in expectations. A proper Pegg-written film (ignore Run Fatboy Run) has become a genuine event, over the course of a mere three films (ignoring Run Fatboy Run), and so not seeing it wasn’t an option (though I’ve still never seen Run Fatboy Run). Even if the above review was the result, as expected.
…But it wasn’t. Clearly- otherwise I would’ve stopped by now, wouldn’t I?
I did not expect, for example, the film to feature such an extensive discussion of faith in an age of science, and in science fiction. More importantly, I did not expect such a wonderfully thorough lecture in swearing, and its proper usage. The film is rich with cussing, as our American cousins would have it: F-bombs, the traditional , but also some more creative cursing from Kristen Wiig’s recovering evangelical, Ruth. Paul manages a quiet, unassuming deconstruction of exactly what the trailers suggested it was. It partakes in the commonly-criticised ‘ruder, crasser, more laughs’ approach of its Apatow-ruled sub-genre, but it also thinks about that a little bit.
But I definitely didn’t expect to like Seth Rogen’s titular alien. I like Rogen, I think he’s got charm to spare and, as a Freaks & Geeks alumni, I will forever cut him a special slack. But this was another wacky, attitude-heavy comedian-voiced animated character. Rogen’s turn in Monsters vs Aliens is not easily forgiven. Meanwhile, the trailers clearly showed Paul to be a poorly-integrated rubbery monstrosity. I believe there is some ancient wisdom here, concerning Ewoks, Shaft and Jar-Jar Binks?
When Paul is grating, it feels intentional, showing the contrast between Graeme and Clive, our introverted Britishers, and the big brashness of the ol’ US of A. But it doesn’t take long to warm to the Paul, foul-mouthed extra-terrestrial. And before you know it, Paul, the big-budget American comedy from Pegg & Frost, has charmed you as well.
It isn’t that funny. As an Apatow-esque comedy, Paul doesn’t really work. But as an example of its other great inspiration, the Spielbergian science-fiction movie, it shines. There are a nice smattering of ideas that tickle that sci-fi corner of your brain, and action scenes and car chases pulled off with genuine arm-of-seat-gripping tension. Pegg brings the trademark domino-effect of callbacks, where everything is there for a reason, to be returned to.
But most of all: it’s a charming, warm film. The characters are all good-natured, softly funny people you’d like to spend more time in the company of. It’s easy to care about what happens to them. The tension works because of the feat that one of your new friends is going to get it.
Among all the talk of spot-on references and geek culture – and admittedly the film features a captivating range of reference-hunting and nerdy t-shirts – it’s easy to forget to remember that what Pegg and Frost have always been so good at is capturing is friendship. And like all the rest of their work, that’s what Paul is about: spending a few hours in the company of some really good mates.
So, the rumours are true: Paul isn’t part of the ‘Blood & Cornettos’ trilogy. It isn’t a fully deserving successor to Shaun and Hot Fuzz. But what did you expect?
*There’s an article somewhere comparing this with Ricky Gervais’ first foray into Hollywood, The Invention of Lying, and one day – if it doesn’t exist by then – I will write it.
**In an interview with Simon Mayo and Mark Kermode, a meeting of duos that is a kind of magical geek-porn in its own right.