Paul Review

Twelve years ago, a slightly podgy Essex boy and his stand up comedian best mate first appeared on our screens in Spaced, Since then they’ve worked together to fight zombies and weird villagers, and independent of one another brought music to the children of the 60s and beamed up a man named Kirk. Now, for the first time in four years, and without director Edgar Wright, they’ve reunited for Paul, a film about two geeks on a road trip, who meet an alien.

One of the defining elements of previous Pegg/Frost outings has been the in-jokes and pop culture references.  In Sean of the Dead it was typified by Romero-esque shuffling zombies and a dubious origin for the disease, while Hot Fuzz featured a catalogue of nods to bad 80s cop films. Paul is less subtle.

Throughout the film are a succession of nods, winks, nudges and hat-tips, that not only provide much of the movie’s humour, but actually encroach onto the plot. For those that don’t understand (read anyone born before 1977 and after 1993, and most people born in between those dates) that’s going to present a massive problem, as minor, but relevant story beats skip straight past them. More to the point, this is going to mean that a large percentage of the audience sit in silence, wondering why other people are laughing.

Indeed, the in-jokes are so rife, that even for those who get them they threaten to overwhelm the plot. At several moments in the film, it’s clear a joke is coming, and everything else seems irrelevant until the punch line hits. Strangely, this doesn’t stop the jokes from being utterly hilarious, but did occasionally leave me playing catch-up with the plot.

Aside from this, the film is actually pretty solid. The story is simple, but satisfying, and the characters, particularly Paul, are well developed and sympathetic.

That said, the film is very much a one trick pony, with nothing to say for itself. This isn’t a problem, it’s a daft comedy, but it’s hard not to hope for more, particularly when, on occasion, the movie teases it. Throughout we get allusions to a homosexual relationship between Graham (Pegg) and Clive (Frost). On the surface it plays as a silly joke, but here and there we see how much Clive loves Graham, and his response to losing him. It’s a shame not to explore this.

The film is also horribly blunt in its treatment of fundamentalist Christians. and religion in general. At various points, it explores the implications of aliens on Christian theology, helping an extremist see her way to a more moderate, science-based attitude, but while it starts to explore these ideas further, at one stage (briefly) trying to position a God figure within an alien-centric belief system, it slowly veers towards spite. By the last exchange between Paul and a fundamentalist Christian, the tone is such that it actually, and unnecessarily, leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

The weirdest thing is that this treatment of religion wouldn’t seem so out of place if the overall tone were more British. The final kiss off between Paul and a fundamentalist seems wrong, because we expect a completed character arc in a Hollywood flick, and this is very much a Hollywood flick. The same ending in Spaced, or Sean, or Hot Fuzz wouldn’t raise an eyebrow, but in Paul it feels quite uncomfortable.

That said, I very much enjoyed the film, and for its target audience Paul is fantastic. Those with a sensitive disposition, or a lack of pop culture knowledge should stay away, but for the rest of us, it’s a real treat.

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