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Film / Paul

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Graeme: What's the matter, Clive?
Clive: There's an alien in the kitchenette making bagels and coffee!
Graeme: Did you want tea?

Paul is a 2011 science fiction comedy directed by Greg Mottola.

Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are two sci-fi geeks whose pilgrimage takes them to the US' UFO heartland. While there, they accidentally meet an alien who brings them on an insane road trip that alters their universe forever.

For the past 60 years, an alien named Paul (voiced by Seth Rogen) has been hanging out at a top-secret military base. For reasons unknown, the space-traveling smart-aleck decides to escape the compound and hop on the first vehicle out of town—a rented RV containing Earthlings Graeme Willy (Pegg) and Clive Gollings (Frost). Chased by federal agents (Bill Hader, Jason Bateman and Joe Lo Truglio) and the fanatical father of a young woman (played by Kristen Wiig) whom they accidentally kidnap, Graeme and Clive hatch a fumbling escape plan to return Paul to his mother ship. And as two nerds struggle to help, one little grey man might just take his fellow outcasts from misfits to intergalactic heroes.


Paul provides examples of:

  • Affectionate Parody: Of every alien contact movie ever. Simultaneously. There's also a loving take on conventions and nerddom in general.
  • Alien Autopsy:
    • It's what Big Guy wants to do to Paul.
    • In the Unrated version, there's a fake one at ComicCon.
  • Aliens Speaking English: Lampshaded and mocked when Graeme asks Paul if he has some sort of magic translation thing going on. Also, justified, in that Paul has been living here for 60 years or so, more than enough time to learn to speak English fluently.
    Paul: Actually, I'm speaking English, you fucking idiot.
  • Amazing Freaking Grace: Ruth when she first finds out about Paul.
  • Amusing Alien: Paul.
  • Anal Probing:
    • Clive, suspicious of Paul after he and Graeme first find him and take Paul along in their RV, asks Graeme, "What if we wake up and find him inserting a probe into our anus?"
      Paul: Why does everyone always assume that?!... How much can I learn from an ass?!
    • Advertisement:
    • On Twitter, Simon Pegg mentioned that they did consider doing a joke about anal probing and repressed memories (of sexual abuse), but they ditched it because a) they couldn't find a punchline, and b) they felt that it might actually be true and not funny.
    • Turns out those two rednecks are deathly afraid of homosexuality, and in their opinion, anal probing counts as such.
  • Artistic License – Religion: Paul claims (and the film takes it as a given) that his existence disproves the concept of the "Abrahamic Judeo-Christian God." While there are fundamentalists who agree with this, many theists from said religions would say that "the Abrahamic religions and aliens being mutually exclusive" is not even close to a universally accepted idea. But that is irrelevant, because Ruth and her father are the type of fundamentalists that do find these mutually exclusive; they are just two fundamentalists, not every fundamentalist.
  • Ascended Fanboy: Both Clive and Graeme are massive Science Fiction nerds who wind up befriending an alien and being caught in their own wacky sci-fi adventure.
  • Audible Sharpness: The sword that Clive tries out at Comic Con.
  • Author Appeal: Nick Frost and the American South. Much of the film's Southern elements came from his interest in the area.
  • Back from the Dead: Paul brings a dead bird back to life... then promptly eats it, citing his unwillingness to eat a dead bird. Occurs later in the film when he saves Graeme from a fatal gunshot wound to a heart — and technically, himself as well.
  • Bait the Dog: Agent Haggard. He doesn't seem like much of a villain at first, especially being played by Bill Hader, and the audience would probably assume that both members of the wacky agent duo would either end up helping Paul in the end or would meet harmless comedic fates. This changes when we see Haggard (apparently) killing Ruth's father in cold blood.
  • Berserk Button: While Paul is usually a go-with-the-flow kind of guy, he loses his cool when Ruth starts espousing her Creationist beliefs. The debate gets so heated, he comes out of the bathroom to reveal himself just to make a point.
  • Big Bad: The Big Guy.
  • Book-Ends: The movie begins and ends at the San Diego ComicCon, first as attendees, then as invited guests.
  • Brick Joke:
    • When Paul first meets Clive and Graeme, Clive faints and Graeme assumes Paul made it happen somehow, but Paul assures him he didn't. Later, when Ruth meets Paul the first time and faints:
      Graeme: What'd you do that for?
      Paul: She fainted! We've been over this!
    • "You'll know it when you see it." It immediately cuts to a ratty-looking trailer park, with Paul saying that looks like a good place to stop, making you think this is the answer to the question. It turns out later he meant Devil's Tower.
    • Clive mentions having had sex with someone dressed as an Ewok. Said Ewok shows up at the end.
    • Paul warns Clive that the swords he wants to buy throughout the film will break when he first tries to use them. When he does, well... "False economy, I told you."
  • Bring My Brown Pants: Clive wets himself upon first sight of Paul.
  • Call-Back: "I changed my mind. That is Jenga."
  • The Cameo: Steven Spielberg As Himself (well, his voice anyway).
  • The Cast Show Off: Say, did you know that Sigourney Weaver is a Black-Belt in Goju-Ryu Karate? You'll get to see her prove it by beating the living daylights of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost in high-heels and a cocktail dress.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • Subverted with Clive's sword. It breaks when he tries to use it on the Big Guy.
    • Played straight to a lesser extent with the sketch Graeme does of Paul.
  • Chekhov's Skill:
    • All of Paul's special powers come in handy, even the "transfers grievous wounds" thing.
    • Also, to a lesser extent, Graeme and Clive being able to speak Klingon. Near the end, Clive uses it to tell Graeme to punch the unsuspecting Big Guy.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: All over the place. There's an actual Running Gag that Ruth swears a lot.
  • Comedic Sociopathy: Paul, usually, ranging from reviving (then eating) a dead bird to scaring the Christ out of rednecks.
  • Contrived Coincidence: The gang runs into a pair of scary hillbillies in Rachel, NV, and then runs into the exact same scary hillbillies a couple of days later hundreds of miles away at a bar in Wyoming. Then Ruth meets her father at the same bar. If you pay close attention, you see the pickup truck pass by our heroes.
  • Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: You might think that Haggard and O'Reilly are just a couple of mooks working for the Big Guy, but they're not federal agents for nothing. Haggard is really on the ball, suspecting there's more to Zoil than he's letting on, and follows his trail after tapping into his own communications with the Big Guy.
  • The Conspiracy: Subverted that, in the end, the real conspiracy is Zoil is actually trying to help Paul escape from the Big Guy all along.
  • Dark Action Girl: The Big Guy, as shown in a fist fight that ensues.
  • A Date with Rosie Palms:
    • An otherwise throwaway line from Jane Lynch:
      Clive: The Robot's Mistress?
      Pat: I prefer romances.
      Clive: That's kind of a romance.
      Pat: Between a woman and a machine?
      Clive: Um, yeah.
      Pat: I hear that!"
    • When Graeme first meets Ruth, he tells her, "You might want to push the tissues off the bed with a pen. I have a slight cold." He doesn't look or sound sick at all, so he's probably using the tissues for something else.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Paul, almost constantly.
    • Zoil is no slouch in this department either.
      Zoil You are aware that you're a grown man, right? You probably shave, pay taxes, have pubic hair...
  • Determinator: Ruth's dad.
    Paul: This guy doesn't quit! You kind of have to respect it.
  • Disney Death: Graeme, and then Paul, a few moments later.
  • Distant Prologue: A brief opener shows Paul's ship crashing on Earth in 1947, before we cut to the present day.
  • The Dragon: Agent Zoil comes off as this, until we find out he's helping Paul return home.
  • Dramatic Alien VTOL: Of course. Paul even lampshades this, apologizing for the spaceship's awkwardly slow ascent. Subverted by the very sudden arrival of the ship.
  • Dreamworks Face: One of the posters. Sure, Paul is supposed to be a smart Amusing Alien, but come on.
  • Drives Like Crazy: "Small corrections! Small corrections!"
  • Dropped a Bridge on Him: The original Paul (A dog) meets this fate at the start of the film when alien Paul's ship crash-lands on him. This foreshadows The Big Guy being killed off rather anti-climatically for comedy.
  • Easy Evangelism:
    • A few minutes with Graeme (and a handy mind meld) are enough to break Ruth out of her Bible-thumping fundamentalism. Somewhat subverted, as she is clearly shocked and frightened by the sudden collapse of her entire worldview, temporarily BSODing.
    • Averted with Ruth's father, who sees the alien he had previously called a demon healing Graeme and responds with "the Lord has delivered His healing hand".
  • Elvis Lives: Inverted. Paul claims his government-supplied pot is so strong that it killed Bob Dylan. The others point out that Dylan isn't dead, but Paul implies otherwise.
  • Every Car Is a Pinto: One of the agents chasing the group accidentally drives off a cliff. Paul remarks that he could still be all right... and then it explodes.
  • Even Nerds Have Standards: One of the goofy, nerdy Agents, upon seeing a drawing of an alien chick with three breasts in their first meeting with Graeme and Clive, suggest that they draw one with "four tits". Graeme's response is "...that's sick."
  • Exotic Equipment: "Hey, on my planet, this is small!"
  • Exposition Beam: Paul can zap people with knowledge of the universe.
  • Fiction as Cover-Up: Inverted. According to Paul, the government commissioned movies about aliens in order to prepare society for First Contact, not to make them skeptical. He was responsible for, among others, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, and The X-Files.
  • The Foreign Subtitle: The Chinese title of the film translates to "We Hit an Alien!"
  • The Fundamentalist: Ruth, initially. She freaks out at Paul even after he explains that his existence "only disproves... one world theologies." Her dad is even worse.
  • Gender-Blender Name: The Big "Guy" is actually a woman.
  • Genre Savvy: Paul. Justified in that he came up with most of the genre's conventions.
  • Gilded Cage: Paul spent the last 60 years or so in one. He apparently didn't even realize he was a prisoner and thought he was a guest, until the Big Guy decided that Paul had outlived his usefulness and wanted to harvest his brain for stem cells.
  • Gosh Dang It to Heck!: Ruth, coming from an ultra-religious background, takes a bit of time to learn how to curse properly.
    Ruth: Well, ain't that a bag of tits.
  • Groin Attack:
    • Ruth knees a hillbilly in the crotch.
    • The kid in a karate gi that Paul befriends also does this.
  • Healing Hands: Paul.
  • Heroic RRoD: Everything cool Paul does harms him somehow — his Exposition Beam makes him exhausted, he needs to hold his breath to use his invisibility which he finds difficult since he's a smoker, and his Healing Hands transfer the damage onto him, depending on the size of the victim.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Paul's gamble to heal Graeme, which had been toted as incredibly risky and likely to kill him. Subverted in that he ends up managing to live through it.
  • Heteronormative Crusader: Gus and Jake immediately antagonize Graeme and Clive because of their accents and for being Heterosexual Life-Partners, calling them "faggots". Odds are this contributed to their fear of the sudden threat of Anal Probing.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Mentioned through the whole movie. Even the alien Paul, mentions it at one point.
  • Hidden Depths: Agent Zoil seems like the kind of obsessive authoritarian Inspector Javert-type who's eventually going to snap and go rogue in his determination to catch and destroy our heroes, while his two underlings seem like the more comic-relief Reasonable Authority Figure types destined to do a Heel–Face Turn. Turns out, they're actually the other way around; Zoil is actually Paul's friend and ally, while the other two are a lot more dangerous than they first appear.
  • Historical In-Joke: Paul is responsible for many of recent history's sci-fi plotlines.
  • Hug and Comment: "Clive, I can feel your boner."
  • I Resemble That Remark!: Happens to Clive, right after choking Paul. It helps to know that calling someone a "spaz" in England is equivalent to calling someone a "retard" in North America.
    Paul: in case our species do meet, you won't have a fucking spaz attack!
    Clive: I DO NOT HAVE A FUCKING SPAZ ATTACK! [starts choking Paul, again]
  • I Ate WHAT?!: Agent Zoil tastes Clive's urine (he wasn't sure it was urine before tasting though...)
  • If Jesus, Then Aliens: Averted with Ruth, but played straight (for laughs) with her Father.
  • Impairment Shot: Ruth after she wakes up after fainting when she sees Paul.
  • Improbable Aiming Skills: Zoil manages to incapacitate the whole of The Big Guy's entourage with non-lethal hits.
  • Improvised Weapon: The clock that Graeme hits Agent Haggard with.
  • Innocent Aliens: Paul's species seem to be this. Paul was sent to Earth in a longterm gambit to help better acclimate humanity to the concept of life beyond their planet, using pop-culture as a medium to teach humans about them one factoid at a time until they eventually make First Contact. Even after the Big Guy had tried to capture and kill their envoy, the aliens seem to acknowledge that this was a "lone wolf" scenario and don't take it personally, even healing her injured soldiers and allowing Tara to come with them.
  • Invisibility: Paul, but only if he holds his breath. Fails on him several times due to this.
    Paul: I gotta stop smoking!
  • Invisible Streaker: Paul.
  • Irony: Paul is a man from the stars with a Biblical name who heals the sick. He's hunted by crazed Bible thumpers.
    • An alien sci-fi flick, and the Big Bad is played by none other than Sigourney Weaver
      • It would have been more ironic had Pegg and Frost's original casting choice, Yeardley Smith been playing the Big Bad in question note 
  • I Should Write a Book About This: Clive and Graeme eventually write about their experience with Paul. On a lesser note, Graeme constantly sketches Paul throughout their trip.
  • I Take Offense to That Last One!: While being chased by what they believe are the hicks, Gus and Jake Clive worries that their assailants will "...rape us and break our arms!" Graeme whimpers that he doesn't "want (his) arms broken!"
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold:
    • Paul is repeatedly described as being a Nice Guy but "incredibly rude."
    • So is Agent Zoil.
  • Kicking Ass in All Her Finery: The Big Guy
  • Killed Mid-Sentence: The Big Guy.
  • Known Only by Their Nickname: Paul. From what we hear of his language, it's probably just as well.
  • Magic and Powers: Paul is psychic, though his abilities are limited to a touch-range Exposition Beam, invisibility while holding his breath, and Healing Hands that temporarily damages him proportionally to the wound.
  • Major Injury Underreaction: Graeme's response to being perforated by a shotgun is to lament that the resulting damage has ruined his favorite shirt.
  • Manchild: Zoil calls O'Reilly out for being one, and generally looks down on the nerds and the agents he's saddled with.
  • Meaningful Echo:
    • "Sometimes you just gotta roll the dice."
    • "That's Jenga."
  • Messianic Archetype: Discussed. When Paul was discussing ideas for E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Steven asks he had any ideas to make the alien more "messianic", Paul giving him the idea of Healing Hands based off of his own Empathic Healer abilities.
  • The Men in Black: Big Guy's men. Somewhat subverted in that two of them have no idea what's going on. Used as a plot point — when they figure it out, they think they're going to finally get promoted and start taking harsher methods that are more in line with villainous depictions of this trope.
  • Missed Him by That Much: At least twice Ruth's father narrowly misses bumping right into either Ruth herself or Greame and Clive, with them being completely unaware of his presence. However he's always hot on their trail soon afterwards.
  • Mission from God: Ruth's father claims this when Haggard tries to get him to back off from the pursuit.
  • Mistaken for Gay: Graeme and Clive. A Running Gag throughout the film, from the hotel employee providing room service to Paul himself. It's not entirely unwarranted. Paul later confirms Clive is jealous of Graeme's new relationship with Ruth.
  • The Mole: Paul has "someone still on the inside". It's Zoil.
  • Mook Promotion: Haggard and O'Reilly (well, mostly Haggard) seek one by capturing Paul before Zoil can.
  • Mooning: Paul does this to Graeme and Ruth when they're outside the RV.
  • Most Writers Are Writers: Clive is a sci-fi writer. Graeme is his illustrator.
  • Multi Boobage: Graeme's comic cover has a three-breasted Green-Skinned Space Babe. Awesome.
  • Mushroom Samba: Ruth takes a hit of some rather strong pot. "There are wasps in my brain!"
  • Nerds Are Virgins:
    • Averted in that we find out that Clive at least has had sex (albeit with a woman dressed as an Ewok).
    • When Ruth grabs Clive's crotch, her expression when she removes her hand implies that his... attention span... is quite short.
  • Nerds Speak Klingon: Naturally Graeme and Clive both speak Klingon. It becomes a Chekhov's Skill when Clive uses it to tell Graeme to punch the unsuspecting Big Guy.
    Paul: [after Clive wakes up and tries to choke him] Was that Klingon? You psychotic nerd!
  • No Social Skills:
    • Ruth, due to being raised by her fundamentalist father all her life.
    • Grahame and Clive, being nerds, aren't good at socializing with non-nerds. "Oh no! People!"
  • Not Quite Dead: O'Reilly is caught in the explosion when Tara's house blows up, but the credits epilogue shows him at Comic-Con, still alive. He's horribly burned and wearing a Phantom of the Opera-type mask.
  • Not-So-Harmless Villain: Agent Haggard at first appears to just be one half of a bumbling buddy cop duo and not particularly malicious or threatening. After the house explosion, however, he steals Zoil's car, apparently murders Ruth's father, and doggedly tries to kill the RV passengers in a chase scene.
  • Overprotective Dad: Ruth's papa.
  • Plot-Driven Breakdown: Justified, the RV took a bullet in its radiator just before the protagonists flee the farm house.
  • Pocket Protector: Papa Buggs is saved by his Bullet Proof Bible.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: The Big Guy twice refers to nerds as faggots or fags.
  • Preacher's Kid: Post-exposition-beam Ruth acts what she thinks is bad quite vigorously. The other characters coach her in the finer points of swearing.
  • Precision F-Strike:
    • Ruth fails to deliver one, but when Zoil runs out of bullets, he levels a small city.
    • Tara ends her story to Paul by saying that everyone who mocked her can "just go fuck themselves" now that she knows he has always been real.
  • Prefers Raw Meat: Taken Up to Eleven with Paul, who uses his Healing Hands to resurrect a dead bird, then immediately eats it, because to him, a living bird tastes better than a dead one.
  • Pre-Mortem One-Liner: Subverted. Haggard's line to Ruth's dad could count as this except he doesn't die.
    Ruth's dad: I'm on a mission from God!
    Haggard: Tell him you failed.
  • Pun:
    • "Lorenzo Zoil" has to win some kind of award for sheer lameness.
    • Clive claims his last sexual encounter, with a girl dressed as an Ewok, was "furry nice".
    • The "Encounter Briefs" comic books count as well.
  • Punny Name: Lorenzo Zoil.
  • Religious Stereotype: Ruth and her dad. Ruth experiences Easy Evangelism via psychic powers, while her dad decides that the main group isn't so bad after Paul revives Graeme.
  • Road Trip Plot: WITH ALIENS!
  • Running Gag:
    • "Three tits! ...Awesome!"
    • "Who the hell is Adam Shadowchild?" Followed by naming three different titles he's written, every time.
      • This also happens three times, and once each time the second of the three mentioned books is "Jenny Starpepper and the [something]". Word of God, however, states that there are in fact four Jenny Starpepper books.
    • Graeme and Clive being Mistaken for Gay.
    • People fainting when they meet Paul for the first time.
    • "You can't WIN with these people."
    Graeme: It's in the car park.
    Clive: I think you mean the parking lot.
    Graeme: [cowboy voice] Ah sure do! [laughter]
  • Serkis Folk: Paul. Most of the stand-in work was done by Joe Lo Truglio, who also plays Agent O'Reilly. Seth Rogen also did some motion capture work during pre-production.
  • Short-Range Shotgun: Averted, as Graeme is the only one hit by Pappa Buggs' shotgun, even though they were standing in a group. The shot even hits in a tight cluster on his shirt.
  • Shout-Out: This movie is practically made of this trope. Think of an alien movie, it's probably in here. In terms of sheer density of nerd references, it's basically Spaced: The Movie.
  • Significant Sketchbook: Being an illustrator, Graeme does several sketches along the way, including one of Paul Flipping the Bird.
  • Sir Swears-a-Lot: Ruth becomes a very awkward and over-the-top example of this once she sheds her anal-retentive religious nature.
    • Paul is not exactly polite with his use of language either.
    • Adam Shadowchild only gets a couple of scenes and drops an F-bomb in both.
  • Small Name, Big Ego: Adam Shadowchild is a parody of several sci-fi writers/artists who display that trait. He's clearly quite full of himself, but no-one who isn't a total geek has ever heard of him.
  • Stock Scream: A Wilhelm Scream as Bill Hader drives off a cliff.
  • Stoners Are Funny: Ruth goes through half-a-dozen clichéd reactions to smoking pot, ending by passing out, within 30 seconds of her first hit.
  • Strange Minds Think Alike: Both Those Two Guys and Ruth's father have a police radio scanner that they use to eavesdrop on Zoil.
  • Straight Man: Agent Haggard seems to be the more compentent side of himself and O'Reily. And was the one to realize Zoil is hiding something.
  • Tempting Fate: The statement "I doubt we'll ever see those guys again!" just ensures that "those guys" show up at a random bar to delay our heroes as the feds are closing in. They also give one of the agents final confirmation that they're really chasing an alien.
  • They Would Cut You Up: The reason why Paul was so urgent to escape Area 51 was because they intended on dissecting him rather than allowing him to return to his home planet.
  • Those Two Bad Guys: Haggard and O'Reilly, after suspicions of Zoil keeping them out of the loop are proven true. Before that they're just...
  • Those Two Guys: There are two recurring rednecks, though they're given very little screen time.
  • Throwing Off the Disability: Ruth's blind eye pretty much only exists so that Paul could fix it with magic. And so she could blend in easily after it's healed. It helps in throwing off Zoil, who even knows about Paul's healing power.
  • Tranquil Fury: When The Big Guy calls Clive a fag, he just tells Graeme, in Klingon, to punch her.
  • A True Story in My Universe: At the end of the film, Graeme and Clive become award-winning authors by publishing their adventure with Paul.
  • What Measure Is a Mook?: Inverted. While the Big Guy is squished by the landing craft, the three mooks by her side are all healed from Zoil's Technical Pacifist gunshots and allowed to live. Even the Disposable Pilot is seen talking with the Alien pilot about his craft.
  • Would Hit a Girl: Graeme punches the Big Guy, actually a woman, in the face; it's hilariously ineffective and she quickly shows she's much more badass than he is but Graeme certainly doesn't lose any audience sympathy for at least trying to deck her.


Video Example(s):


The Big Guy

The Big Guy is the main antagonist of Paul and leader of Area 51.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (3 votes)

Example of:

Main / BigBad

Media sources:

Main / BigBad