Paulie is a 1998 family film about a talking parrot, more accurately a blue-crowned conure. The film was directed by John Roberts, previously known for such films as "This Boy's Story"(1992) and "War Of The Buttons" (1994). The main stars were Jay Mohr, Tony Shalhoub, Hallie Kate Eisenberg, Buddy Hackett, Gena Rowlands, Cheech Marin, Tia Texada, Bruce Davison, and Trini Alvarado.
The film starts by featuring Misha Belenkoff (Shalhoub) in his first night as the janitor at an animal testing lab. He used to be a literature teacher in Russia, but has been reduced to menial jobs after immigrating to the United States. His curiosity is piqued by a lone parrot, kept in isolation in the basement. He soon realizes that that parrot can do more than mimic sounds: he sings and talks, but only when away from observers. He gets the parrot to speak to him, but Paulie (Mohr) refuses to speak or perform for anyone else.
He eventually gets Paulie talking about his life story. Most of the rest of the narrative is told in flashbacks. His earliest memories find him as the pet of 5-year old Marie Alweather (Eisenberg). Marie is a stutterer. Her worried parents are pressuring Marie to start speaking properly. By observing the lessons, Paulie learns the meaning of words and how to construct complex sentences. He is then able to help Marie learn without pressure. Her stories about speaking to her parrot convince her father that Marie is unable to differentiate between fantasy and reality. He deals with this by selling the bird.
The next few years of Paulie's life are not depicted. He eventually finds himself at the pawnshop of the sarcastic Artie (Hackett). The films proceeds to follow Paulie's life under later owners and his efforts to locate Marie. The first such owner is the aging artist Ivy (Rowlands). She teaches him a lot about life and putting things into perspective, but her health eventually takes a turn for the worst. The next owner is Ignacio (Marin), proud owner of a taco stand, entertainer and owner of trained parrots. Paulie learns to perform for an audience and falls for Lupe (Texada), a female conure. A misadventure lands him at the hands of petty criminal Benny (Mohr) and his girlfriend Ruby (Texada). They teach him the value of money and how to steal for them. Stealing from wallets and ATM machines proves easy, but his first attempt at burglary gets him captured.
He ends up at the institute. Dr. Reingold (Davison) promises to help him, but sees him more as a meal ticket. Paulie stops being so trusting and refuses to cooperate. This being the reason for his long isolation. Back to the present, Misha decides to help Paulie escape and find Marie. To their surprise, decades have passed. They find an adult Marie (Alvarado), who is, regardless, happy to get her companion back.
This film provides examples of:
- Abusive Parents: Marie's father, who argues with his wife in front of his daughter and gets angry when she can't say a word. He soon thinks his daughter, a 5 years old mind you, is getting mentally ill for saying Paulie was helping her. Then, he brings a cat home and doesn't want to believe it tried to kill a bird. Finally, he considers getting rid of Paulie, which is exactly what encouraged his daughter to teach Paulie to fly and fall off the roof.
- Acrophobic Bird: Both Marie and Ivy spend time trying to teach Paulie to fly. He first has to overcome his fear of heights.
- Amplified Animal Aptitude: Paulie is constantly able to speak, learn new skills and form plans. He is surprised that the other parrots seem unable to do so, including his beloved Lupe.
- Animal Testing: The lab. Though what the tests involve remains unclear.
- Avoid the Dreaded G Rating: The film was Rated PG solely because of "brief mild language." There are only two instances of profanity in the entire film, one use of "Up yours, jackass!" near the end of the film, and one use of "goddamn."
- Character Title
- Chekhov's Gun: While reading a book on parrots, Misha finds a piece of paper with contact information written on it, which he uses the back of to write down what parrots like. When Paulie and Misha look through the office to find her contact info, Paulie mentions Marie by name, Misha realizes that the MA on the paper stood for her name and he had her information this whole time.
- Cool Pet: A pet that can help you with your language skills, act as a seeing dog (for Ivy), sing and dance. No wonder Paulie is loved by his various owners.
- Dirty Coward: Benny. He got Paulie to rob somebody's house, and when the owner of the house found out, Benny selfishly ditched Paulie, for fear of being arrested.
- Evil Is Petty: Presumably the only reason that Dr. Reingold keeps Paulie locked in the basement for years, even though he knows where his owner lives, and even after Paulie ceases being useful for the institution, is that he was still sore over Paulie insulting him in front of his scientific peers, after Paulie was (justifiably) upset that he'd been lied to. It might be argued that the real motive for the wing-clipping boils down to this trope as well. That or he was just insistant Paulie would finally break and play ball at some time or other.
- Freudian Excuse: It's established in the film that the reason Marie's father acts the way he does is because he's a Shell-Shocked Veteran from serving in The Vietnam War.
- Gold Digger: Now I ain't sayin' she's a gold digger, but Ruby's the one who pushes for the home robbery because she wants more luxury items than can be brought in ripping off ATM's. She's pretty vocal about it.
- Irony: Marie decides to teach Paulie how to fly in case they're ever separated. The attempt leads to her being injured after falling off the roof, and her father decides to send Paulie away.
- It's a Long Story: When Misha is trying to find out why Paulie won't talk to anyone but him:Paulie: It's a long story.
Misha: I'm Russian. I like long stories.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Paulie can be this with his sarcastic, snarky personality and flippant insults. Ivy teaches him to tone it down. By the time Misha finds him, a lifetime full of disappointments has turned Paulie into a bitter bird.
- Jerk with a Heart of Jerk: It may be a stretch to say career criminal Benny has a heart of gold. Nickel plated aluminum maybe. But by the time Paulie is ready to make his ill fated debut as a burglar, Benny, who had initially only birdnapped Paulie as pawn, has genuinely come to care about him, expressing concern about his safety multiple times. Doesn't stop Benny from bailing when things go sour though.
- Karma Houdini: Benny. He abducts Paulie from Ignacio, who he was genuinely happy living with, trains Paulie into becoming a thief, and when Paulie is caught while they try to rob a house, Benny escapes and is never seen again.
- Mood Whiplash: The press conference scene, where after Paulie discovers that Dr. Reingold had no true intention of returning him to Marie. He embarrasses him by acting like an ordinary parrot, then throws in such insults as "Up yours, jackass", which is funny at first, but it quickly becomes serious when Reingold asks him why he's acting this way, to which Paulie replies "You promised", then angrily shouts "Liar" over and over and tries to escape, which leads to him being captured and having his wings clipped.
- Never Say "Die": Ivy. Her death isn't shown on screen - instead we see a shot of an ambulance outside her house while Paulie's narration states that "the cat got her".
- Off-Model: The cover portrays Paulie absolutely enormous, suggesting it will be a movie about a giant bird.
- Outlaw Couple: Benny and Ruby.
- Polly Wants a Microphone: Paulie is a talking bird; the catch is that every other parrot in the movie isn't, and most humans have difficulty believing that Paulie is.
- The people who do know that he talks don't seem to realize that he understands English, and think he was trained to say these things.
- Potty Failure: Implied to have happened to Paulie while in the car with Benny after they had burritos.
- Protagonist Title
- Porky Pig Pronunciation: Marie talked this way as a kid.
- Seldom-Seen Species: Blue-crowned conures are popular pets, but they are not that often depicted in fiction. Reportedly: "The most famous fictional Blue-crowned Conure is the title character in the 1998 movie Paulie. The movie used 14 birds to play the role of the talking parrot and caused a surge in the popularity of Blue-crowned Conures as pets."
- She Is All Grown Up: Paulie has trouble realizing that his little Marie has grown into a woman. However this comes as a pleasant surprise to Misha, who is obviously attracted to her.
- Sliding Scale of Animal Communication: Level 7. Paulie can freely talk with people, but seems to be the only animal able to do so. Ironically, he's unable to talk to other parrots.
- Talking Animal: Paulie. He is able to speak and think, but remains a pet.
- Tropey, Come Home: Played with. Paulie has spent decades trying to locate Marie. How she spent the missing time is not covered. She just accepts that her pet returned.
- Trust Password: The adult Marie proves her identity to a skeptical Paulie by singing a song she used to sing with him as a child.
- Worthless Foreign Degree: Mentioned above, Belenkoff used to be a literature teacher in Russia, but reduced to a Janitor in the US.