In a world where perfectly good foreign-language movies are shoved through the Hollywood mangle just for the benefit of people who can’t cope with subtitles (or subplots, or subtlety), it’s reassuring to know that the likes of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are out there gleefully making the kind of films that sing loud, glorious hymns to the gods of geekdom – in the best way. Paul is to aliens as Shaun Of The Dead was to zombies (see also, Scott Pilgrim vs The World and Nintendo). It’s the story of two sci-fi fans, Graeme Willy (Pegg) and Clive Gollings (Frost), who meet a real alien, Paul (the voice of Rogen). After attending the annual Comic-Con in San Diego, illustrator Graeme and writer Clive set off on a road trip around America’s most notorious UFO sites, planning to end up in – where else – Roswell.
That might all sound a bit self-referential, in that an idiot might perhaps think Pegg and Frost are mocking the kind of people who go to Comic-Con. Of course, that’s not what they’re doing at all. Take Pegg, a man who’s made a career out of fulfilling his boyhood dreams – an episode of Doctor Who here, a Star Trek film there – and titled his autobiography Nerd Do Well, which pretty much sums up how big his sense of entitlement isn’t. Pegg and Frost aren’t taking the piss. They’re playing the exact people that they would have been if they hadn’t made Shaun Of The Dead and Hot Fuzz and entered the ranks of people who go to Comic-Con because they have films to show. The people they undoubtedly still are, at least to an extent.
The thing about Graeme and Clive is that they’ve long considered what they’d do if they found a real alien, not expecting that in this actual situation they might just scream and faint like girls. They don’t even really want to meet a real alien, they just want to fantasise about it. Then Paul ends up in their RV and their lives and they agree, reluctantly, to help him escape. He’s fleeing from – what else – the FBI, led by Agent Zoil (Bateman).
While the film is crammed full of references to everything from ET and Close Encounters Of The Third Kind to Star Trek and The X-Files, it also revisits a theme that’s been present throughout Pegg and Frost’s work together: that of friendship, as anyone who remembers Tim and Mike’s relationship in Spaced. Here, their bromance isn’t just threatened by their differing reactions to Paul crashing their road trip, but also the fact that when they meet hicksy but pretty Ruth Buggs (Wiig) while staying in a caravan park, they both like her. Oops.
All of which means that Paul isn’t just a stream of sci-fi and pop culture in-jokes and hat-tips – it very much has an emotional story at its heart, complete with crying and (look away now if you’re faint-hearted) a Star Wars T-shirt getting ruined. It’s also hilariously rude in places, and hilarious full stop. And if that’s not enough, the CGI is good too. If you’re the kind of person who can say “The Phantom Menace” without wincing, then there’s probably nothing for you here. But for everyone who sees Simon Pegg as one of their own, Paul is everything you could hope for.