Monday, March 21, 2011

Paul (2011) – Review

Paul is a funny and sci-fi nostalgia filled comedy. Structured as a road-comedy/buddy-comedy, the film works as a tale of friendship and growth along the journey. The nostalgic aspect is focused on popular science fiction (mostly from film and TV) – things like Star Wars, Star Trek (I love the reenactment of the worst fight in TV history), Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T., and many others (especially Steve Spielberg films, and his voice makes a cameo). These references work to be both funny and enjoyable for those that know them. However, this may also be an issue for viewers without a strong knowledge of popular sci-fi, as a ton of jokes will not work for them (or not even play as jokes or references). But, this is a film not made for those viewers – this is clearly made for sci-fi fans who will get all the references and jokes. Thus, the film does have a somewhat limited appeal, though there are also lots of jokes and comedy that do not require a strong knowledge of sci-fi films and TV as well, but some of the full enjoyment will be lost. There is also another pitfall that arises from the film being heavily geared towards referential jokes, (much like with the film Fanboys) its narrative seems to be structured more around these jokes than telling a good story. Director Greg Mottola is very good at telling nostalgic comedy stories that are very funny, while maintaining a strong dramatic narrative. Here, Mottola is able to bring the drama out of the story amidst the comedy, helping the audience feel more connected to the characters, which benefits the film. The issue is that the narrative is not quite tight enough, as it feels a tad slow in parts and most of the comedy is generated from outside factors and not so much from the main characters (played by Simon Pegg and Nick Frost). The supporting cast is funny, especially Ruth Bugs and Paul, but for the film to be really good, the comedy should generate from the main characters. The road trip aspect of the narrative delivers most of the comedy and excitement, while the buddy aspect, which should really generate both the crux of the drama and comedy, only delivers drama and character to the film. This would be fine if at its heart it were a coming of age or growth drama, but it is a comedy, so having most of the laughs come from references, locations and supporting characters and not the main characters (though they do have their moments) hurts the film in terms of its overall success as a comedy and cinematic experience (i.e. its ability to entertain). Paul is quite funny, with great and well integrated nostalgic references, but despite its nagging issues is still good, but not great.

Technical and acting achievements: Paul is Greg Mottola’s third feature film. He yet again shows his knack for addressing his material in such a way that resonates with the audience, both through his use of character connection to the audience and nostalgia. However, this is his weakest film to date. It is not funny enough to be a great comedy and not dramatic, moving or interesting enough to be a great dramady, so we are left with a good comedy (but really only if you like popular sci-fi and get the references). The script by Pegg and Frost is a good road trip and shows their love of science fiction, but it seems as though there is more interested in the references than the story, which does hurt the narrative. David Arnold’s score is good, playing off the nostalgia and genre the characters love. The cinematography by Lawrence Sher is mostly straight-forward, but in certain scenes is better than what comedies typically get. Production designer Jefferson Sage must have had a fun time with the sets and locations in the film (I particularly liked the choice and look of Tara Walton’s house and grounds – it reminds me of Superman coming to Earth, and maybe it is supposed to). The cast is funny overall. Joe Lo Truglio is the standout among the bit players in the film; he is really silly, in a good way. Simon Pegg and Nick Frost have tons of chemistry and go together well, but they did not generate much of the best stuff in the film. Principal supporting characters Kristen Wiig and Seth Rogen (who voices Paul) steal the show. Wiig is hilarious, while Rogen’s Paul has the charisma that focuses the audience’s attention.

Films centered around nostalgia often endear themselves to their intended audience, and Paul does that. It is funny and entertaining, but not everyone will like or get it. 7/10 

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