There’s something about watching a movie in which you can feel that every single participant wants nothing more than to be exactly where they are. Paul, written by and starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost as a pair of British geeks on a road trip from Comic Con who meet an alien (voiced by Seth Rogen), is a love letter to geekery in all its forms, and the love the entire cast feels for the subject matter is palpable. It’s felt most from the two leads, which is to be expected from the stars of things like Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and the inimitable TV show, Spaced. However, their co-stars Seth Rogen, Kristen Wiig, Bill Hader, and Jason Bateman, as well as the many people making surprise cameos all seem to adore getting their nerd on, making Paul a hugely fun, surprisingly sweet film.
It seems that, when it comes to geekdom, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost can do no wrong. Well, almost.
After having a wonderful time at San Diego Comic Con, Graeme (Pegg) and Clive (Frost) rent a mobile home and take a road trip across the U.S. in order to visit important alien-related locations like Area 51 and Roswell. Their trip is altered when they come across an actual alien in the middle of the road who calls himself Paul. He is running from government scientists who want to kill him in order to figure out how his abilities—like being able to camouflage himself, or bring things back to life—work, and he convinces Graeme and Clive to take him to the spot where his people will pick him up so that he can escape. What’s wonderful is that Paul doesn’t adhere to any of Graeme and Clive’s preconceived sci-fi geek notions of what an alien should be: he’s sarcastic, he smokes, and he doesn’t probe anyone (a fact which is used to hilarious effect in several instances). And the reason why all people think aliens look like him? He’s been influencing pop culture since he was captured, and every picture we see of an alien is actually an artist’s rendition of his face. Graeme and Clive learn that everything they’ve ever geeked out about is wrong. To further complicate matters, the men and the alien are joined by a creationist named Ruth (played by Kristen Wiig). Well, they sort of kidnap her and take her with them, because she started going on about how God made “us all in His image,” forcing Paul to come out of hiding to ask “Oh, yeah? Well how do you explain me?!”
Geek references abound in this film, from certain music choices in key scenes, to visual references, to the general—and accurate—portrayal of geeks at a convention. These things alone make the movie worth a viewing. However, what makes it really good are the absolutely lived-in performances by the entire cast. No one does simultaneously childlike and mature like Simon Pegg, and he was great as usual, but it’s really Nick Frost’s performance that surprised me in this film. In most Simon Pegg/Nick Frost collaborations, Simon Pegg plays The Smart One, and Nick Frost plays The Dumb One. Not so in Paul. Nick Frost’s Clive is a writer who takes his work very seriously. He’s suspicious of Paul at first, unlike Graeme, who is gung-ho about Paul from the get-go. He’s the one who generally makes the “big boy” decisions on the trip, unlike Graeme who seems to be the one making all of the big mistakes when he isn’t making goo-goo eyes at Ruth. It was refreshing to see Nick Frost like this and be reminded that, wait a minute, this guy is an actor. A good one!
But special kudos have to go to Seth Rogen, who exemplifies what a voice over performance should be. Despite not being on screen at all, Rogen manages to make the audience feel Paul’s pain, fear, and love for his new friends, even as he’s cracking wise or saying something completely inappropriate. This has always been one of Rogen’s strengths as an actor, the ability to make a character who’s kind of a jackass feel not only human, but like someone you want to know. However, if I’m going to mention Rogen’s performance, I have to also mention the folks at Double Negative, the company responsible for animating Paul. Together with Rogen’s performance, they created an indelible, unique film character that is a joy to watch.
The movie wasn’t perfect. Pegg and Frost’s script became uneven as it progressed, and a plot point involving Jason Bateman’s FBI agent character seemed not only contrived, as did what happened with the local police officers (played by Greg Mottola staples Bill Hader and Joe Lo Truglio), but undercut all the emotions that had been building throughout the movie. I also could have done with a bit fewer jokes at the expense of the Christians. Yes, Paul rightfully opened Ruth’s eyes (figuratively and literally) to everything she was missing about the world, but his treatment of her father at the end of the film was completely callous and not only disrespectful of the fact that he was coming around despite his long-held beliefs, but completely not acknowledging the fact that he’d kidnapped this man’s daughter. Well, she was there willingly after a while, but he didn’t know that. So, dismissing the father with a “Yeah, whatever” after all of that seemed like a flaw in the script, as it didn’t make sense for Paul to react that way to him just then.
Still, Paul has a lot of geeky heart, is funny as hell, and is worth seeing if for no other reason than that it is unlike anything else in the theater right now. Simon Pegg and Nick Frost can always be counted on to make familiar genres seem new again, and Paul is a wonderful addition to the sci-fi canon.
Teresa Jusino is two years older than Buffy Summers. Her “feminist brown person” take on pop culture has been featured on websites like ChinaShopMag.com, PinkRaygun.com, Newsarama, and PopMatters.com. Her fiction has appeared in the sci-fi literary magazine, Crossed Genres; she is the editor of Beginning of Line, the Caprica fan fiction site; and her essay “Why Joss is More Important Than His ‘Verse” is included in Whedonistas: A Celebration of the Worlds of Joss Whedon By the Women Who Love Them, which is on sale now wherever books are sold! Get Twitterpated with Teresa, or visit her at The Teresa Jusino Experience.