Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Paul


MPAA (R) CNS (O) Roger Ebert (2 1/2 stars) Fr. Dennis (1 1/2 stars)

IMDb listing -
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1092026/
CNS/USCCB review -
http://www.usccb.org/movies/p/paul2011.shtml
Roger Ebert’s review -
http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20110316/REVIEWS/110319984

I went to see Paul (written by Nick Frost and Simon Pegg and directed by Greg Motolla) for a number of reasons. First, over the years, I’ve generally liked Seth Rogan. The (hopefully exaggerated) enormity of his character’s drug use notwithstanding, I liked generally him in Knocked Up and I even liked him in the Green Hornet. Even though his role in Superbad was actually pretty tame (rather "good" rather than "bad";-), I just didn’t like Superbad, period, finding very little positive or even particularly funny in that movie. Second, I went to see Paul because as far as I could discern from the trailer and reviews, I thought I’d like Paul’s plot. To be honest I was disappointed with both Paul and with Rogan.

Again, the plot seemed promising: Graeme Willy (played by Simon Pegg) and Clive Golings (played by Nick Frost) a couple of wide-eyed "geeks" from England come to California for a comic book convention. Growing up a "geek" myself and with plenty of other "geeks" as friends, "I could relate." Then after the convention, the two rent a big RV to begin a tour of the UFO hot spots of the American South West. Being the son of Czech immigrants, I also know something of that "wide-eyed" experience of relatives and friends of relatives first coming to this country (even to visit) and "hitting the road" in a big, often _very big_ car (or RV) for the very first time. So there was something both EPIC and REALLY, REALLY ENDEARING watching a movie about this experience of two Europeans in the U.S. for the first time, taking that RV on the road to explore "the America of their Dreams."

The key plot-twist advertised in the trailers was that while on this American odyssey the two run into an actual space alien named "Paul" (voice by Seth Rogan), who after some adventures they then help "go home" (hey, that even sounds like a tribute to the plot of E.T. ;-).

What I found disappointing (and frankly needless) was the other plot twist (not exactly advertised) where the movie became an extended, and not particularly funny slam of fundamentalist Christians. How this happens is that the two British tourists along with their new found alien friend stop at a RV campsite somewhere in Nevada operated by Ruth Buggs (played by Kristen Wiig) and her father Moses Buggs (played by John Carroll Lynch) who play stereotypical "three toothed" hick Christian fundamentalist ignoramuses (Ruth even has a "glass eye" when she first appears). Staring face to face at Paul, Ruth who believes God created the world in 7 days 4000 years ago, declares Paul to be a "demon." Over the rest of the movie, the aliens, Graeme and Clive from England and Paul from outer space, evangelize Ruth into accepting the "true gospel" (of evolution).  Note that neither I have, nor more importantly the Catholic Church has ever had, a great problem with evolution.

Now the two British stars Frost and Pegg wrote the screenplay and it is possible that the fundamentalism of the American countryside simply appalls them. Still, honestly, I did find their portrayal both unfunny and unfair.

For while there certainly are Christian fundamentalists like Ruth and Moses in the United States and are perhaps more prevalent in the American countryside, the American west is also the "American heartland of black helicopters, cattle mutilations and UFOs." And there has been an entire series on the History Channel in recent years promoting Ancient Alien Theory which suggests that God/"the gods" was/were perhaps alien biochemist(s)/astronaut(s). So good old Graeme and Clive could have just as easily (or IMHO much more easily) run into a milieu of good-ole-boys where God and aliens, the Flood and UFOs would have been seamlessly talked about as being basically one and the same thing, and a good part of those good-ole-boys would have had rather impressive comic book collections of their own stored under their "boxes of ammo" (if one needed to go there) as well ;-). So I do believe that the American "outback" is far more interesting a place than those two British writers (and Seth Rogan/"Paul") made it out to be.

Above all, I do believe that this movie could have been much more fun than it was. Instead, the makers of this film chose to make it into a needlessly gratuitous slam of people who are always much more interesting/complex than their stereotypes suggest.

So while IMHO the movie had a great deal of potential, I have to say that I left very, very disappointed, because it did not have to go that way. Would I recommend this movie? With difficulty and only if one was able to hold one’s nose while Christian fundamentalists were needlessly and gratuitously getting slammed over and over, for a very, very long time.

PS - A number of years ago, the Vatican declared that Catholics need not have difficulty in reconciling both their faith and a belief that life, even intelligent life could exist on other worlds. To deny even the possibility of there being life, even intelligent life on other worlds would limit the greatness of God (Osservatore Romano, May 14, 2008, Ital original, Eng translation)

ADDENDUM

An excellent book that covers much of the same territory as Paul does but with a much kinder smile is fellow Britisher Jon Ronson's book Them: Adventures with Extremists.  A number of years ago, I wrote a review of Them on Facebook that I reposted recently reposted on my personal blog.  Ronson's point, well taken, is that we have far more in common with "Them" (the "Other guys" that we don't like) than we may think.  I much prefered Ronson's gentle humor to the "hit people we don't like with a baseball bat" approach of the makers of Paul.


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