Comedies are funny things. Our response to humor can have as much to do with outside influences—our mood, the response of the crowd, the people we’re with, how drunk we are—as the source material.
I saw Paul in Austin’s gorgeous Paramount Theatre after an introduction from cast members Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and Kristen Wiig in a room full of fellow geeks at during SXSW Film and Interactive, and after a few of the convention’s many flowing free drinks. I can point out its faults, but I also laughed often.
Co-writers Pegg and Frost played a pair of British sci-fi nerds on holiday at San Diego’s ComicCon before taking an RV on a tour of American alien hot spots. Their dream of first contact becomes a reality when they meet Paul, the extraterrestrial bro’ voiced by the hardest-working slacker in show biz, Seth Rogen.
Since crashing his spaceship into New Mexico decades ago, Paul has enjoyed a cushy gig consulting with the U.S. government and providing movie ideas to Steven Spielberg. But his usefulness as a live specimen had run its course, and he’s on the lamb from a Man in Black (Jason Bateman). Along the way, the trio pick up Christian fundamentalist Ruth Buggs (Wiig), whose faith is shaken by her encounter and intends to make up for lost time with lots of “cursin’ and fornicatin’.”
Most of the humor comes from sci-fi references, something Frost and Pegg had plenty of practice with in their comedy series Spaced. Even the casting—Sigourney Weaver (Aliens) and Blythe Danner (The X-Files)—lends to the wonderful geekfest. It also means that many of the laughs will be lost on those with a less-than-encyclopedic knowledge of the sci-fi canon.
As is the case of most of her films, Wiig steals the show. Her ridiculous profanity and awkward mannerisms overshadow her character’s simple caricature of Christian fundamentalism and the movie’s assumption that faith and science can’t coexist (her t-shirt shows Jesus putting a bullet in Darwin’s brain).
In the hands of Greg Mottola (Superbad), Pegg and Frost’s script is as fun and silly as you’d expect, even if the plot is a fairly by-the-numbers affair. It’s not nearly as engaging as the many films it parodies, but it’s a charming little tribute.