Year of Release: 2011
Date Viewed: September 3rd, 2011
MPAA Rating: R
It was around 6pm last Saturday. After a three hour session of clicking, typing and leaning my head into my hand in frustration, it was time for a snack break to recharge the brain batteries. It was a complex assignment yet the adrenaline was still running high. Homework is rarely ever this exciting but the college's film studies curriculum has brought many exceptions. As my mouth consumed the remaining pieces of dried mango, it occasionally stopped long enough to ramble about all the discoveries I had made within the past three hours. The assignment in question was a topic of my choosing: Film music composer James Horner's tendency to directly copy his own past material for use in future projects. My sister was the sole spectator; listening to me recall familiar tunes from movies of our youth. She wasn't even a quarter of the way amused as I was. Upon noticing this, I stopped, embarrassed.
"I'm such a geek," I confessed.
Then she replied with something I didn't expect. The exact words escape me but it was something along the lines of "That's okay. Being a fan of something is what makes you interesting."
And she was right. When you think about all the past and present friends that you've accumulated over the years, there's a good chance many of those friendships were spawned and are grouped by a shared interest. Celebrating that interest with someone that appreciates it as much as yourself is liberating. If the guest list is large enough, it becomes an event.
Today's movie is about two friends who live and are probably destined to die through their mutual love of science fiction. British comic-book fans Graeme Willy (Simon Pegg) and Clive Gollings (Nick Frost) embark on a road trip adventure that begins as a celebration of extraterrestrial stories at San Diego's Comic-Con and finishes in their very own story at a Nevada desert. While touring locations relevant to alien urban legends, a road accident leads to a close encounter with a real alien being named Paul (voice of Seth Rogen).
On the run from government agents that formerly had him in custody, Paul asks his two new friends to help him reach a rendezvous destination so he can return to his home planet. It's like the final sequence in E.T. or the ALF series finale on a comedy acid trip. But don't expect very much sentimentality or even a lot of new ideas here. Expect references of past science fiction masterworks and the promotion of bad behavior. It won't make anyone proud but should please those who get a kick out of such genius lunacy.
It's clearly evident through here and their prior work that Simon Pegg and Nick Frost (who also penned the script) have a strong affection for the media that inspired their own. Like the 2008 cult flick Fanboys, Paul is both a celebration and a lampooning of culture populated by obsessive individuals. Unlike Fanboys, Paul doesn't settle for just one culture. Extremism from different angles are represented through characters. Besides the sci-fi geeks, there are stereotypical government agents dressed in suits and sunglasses that will make any sacrifices necessary to keep their world control into fruition.
Paul himself doesn't even behave like someone from another planet but rather as an immature former fraternity resident who lives to recapture the glory of the prime days; via overdoses of marijuana. Even in a voice-only assignment, Seth Rogen still manages to demonstrate again why he's so natural in those roles. (That's a compliment, just to be clear.)
The personification of extremism that seemed to draw the strongest critical response was the staunch creationist character named Ruth, played by the always sporty Kristen Wiig. When Ruth sees Paul for the first time, she loses her bearings and screams for her God to terminate the alien being, going as far as spontaneously dropping to her knees in prayer while singing Amazing Grace. The scene and the character are played over the top and purely for laughs but not without drawing the criticism from believers who condemned the film for having an unfair depiction of Christians. (The IMDB message board threads is full of heated discussions.) Many played the straw man card; a mostly valid claim, but one that doesn't hold up when stacked against the lineup of other far out archetypes. And if someone already agrees to view a film about an alien life form; something that's undocumented on any scientific chart and few religious ones, is it really unfair to ask the same person to suspend their remaining pre-conceived notions on how life came to be? Even most atheists don't believe in life outside our home planet so the controversy doesn't really have ground to stand on anyway.
Shortly before the climax, the movie takes a break from the one-liners and stoner humor to tie up a loose end concerning Paul's past. He got his name from a young girl who witnessed his fateful crash landing. Now an elderly woman, she exhibits depression over the long years of ridicule she had to face from people who didn't believe her story, until Paul shows up again in her life to liberate the despair away. Of all the film's references to pop culture's affect on its aficionados, this one is probably the most important because of how it speaks to the young adult in all of us. Life has a turning point that asks us to let go of the preferred reality that the mind creates and accept the real one. To grow up, so to speak. Those who were exposed to stories about chosen heroes or worlds of imagination during youth would dream of encountering a similar fantasy in their own life before accepting it as nothing more than just that; fantasy. That's why films such as E.T. have such a strong appeal to the youth because of how it stimulates those dreams. Adults now have Paul for times when they wish to revisit the nostalgia and this time with a chance to hear all the F-words that the parents warned against. The best of both worlds indeed.