P A U L I E
Soren Andersen; The Tacoma News Tribune
For a picture whose main character is a smart-aleck talking bird, "Paulie" is remarkably sweet. And surprisingly sad.
The smart-aleck bird, a parrot named Paulie (voiced by actor Jay Mohr) is a lonely creature. Locked alone in a cage in the spooky basement of a research lab at the movie's start, he tells a tale rich in woe to another lonely soul, an immigrant Russian janitor named Misha (Tony Shalhoub). Friendless and feeling out of place in his new country, Misha instantly empathizes with poor Paulie, who has arrived at his present sorry circumstances by a very long and roundabout route. The movie is the story of how the caged bird wound up in subterranean solitary confinement.
A picture with plenty of appeal for kids and grown-ups alike, "Paulie" begins with the parrot helping a dumpling-cheeked, liquid-eyed little girl named Marie (Hallie Kate Eisenberg) overcome a serious stuttering problem. A widow named Ivy (Gena Rowlands) enters the parrot's life sometime later and with Paulie's encouragement - no, let's call it what it is: nagging - she leaves behind her solitary, going-nowhere life and adventures off across the United States in her Winnebago with Paulie riding shotgun on a perch beside her.
Later, in Los Angeles, he's befriended by Ignacio (Cheech Marin), a good-hearted Hispanic burrito vendor, and later still falls into the hands of a big-talking small-time crook named Benny (Mohr, doing double duty). In this part of the parrot's passage across America, Paulie becomes Oliver Twist to Benny's Fagin, becoming adept at ripping off ATMs. He even tries his hand - er, claw - at being a cat burglar - er, bird É Never mind.
Almost all the people Paulie meets are outsiders of one sort or another. Marie's stutter alienates her from her father, Ignacio is an illegal immigrant and so on. And everyone who enters his orbit is cheered up immediately by the feathered charmer. Just see if you don't smile at the comical way he side-sidles down to a perch to eyeball a visitor. And I defy you to keep from laughing when he and three other small winged wonders do a can-can-style song-and-dance routine atop a piano in front of a cheering crowd.
The bird stunt work is extraordinary - "Babe" quality, and all that that implies. Fourteen Blue-crown Conure parrots lent their talents to the playing of Paulie, along with an animatronic bird created by noted effects wizard Stan "Jurassic Park" Winston. The mechanical bird handles the talking-beak close-ups. The live parrots' performances were guided by trainer Boone Narr, who also worked his magic with mice in "Mouse Hunt."
The performance created by Narr out of the birds' combined work is so seamless and affecting that your inevitable "How did they do that?" first reaction quickly gives way to effortless acceptance of the garrulous personality of Paulie.
First-time screenwriter Laurie Craig gives the picture an "E.T." poignancy by making it a story of a lost creature's search for home. In this case, "home" is not a place but a person. That would be Marie, the one person who loves the little bird wholeheartedly and whose love is returned by Paulie in kind. Everything the parrot does, from learning to fly (hey, he's afraid of heights) to working his way in fits and starts all the way across the country, is motivated by his need to be with Marie.
There's only one genuine villain in the picture, a research scientist played by Bruce Davison who has visions of research grants dancing in his head the minute he discovers Paulie's special talent. But he's a rather mild-mannered meanie. Screenwriter Craig and director John Roberts have been very careful not to populate "Paulie" with outright ogres or clownish stereotypes (though Benny comes close). Rather, they've made a fairy tale that's gentle and sentimental, though not cloyingly so.
It's difficult to make a movie that's sweet but not sugary but "Paulie" walks - er, OK, flies - that fine line with graceful ease.
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* * *
Director: John Roberts.
Cast: Gena Rowlands, Tony Shalhoub, Cheech Marin, Hallie Kate Eisenberg, Bruce Davison, Trini Alvarado and Jay Mohr as the voice of Paulie.
Rating: PG. Scene of bird's wings being clipped may distress the very young.
Running time: 1 hour, 32 minutes.
Movie Review: 'A Moving, Parrot's-Eye View of the World in 'Paulie'
Bob Heisler; The Los Angeles Times
Make an appointment with your kids or borrow some children from your neighbor and see "Paulie," a perfect family movie with the intelligence, humor and hug-me moments to be a great first-date movie, too. Just remember to bring a hankie.
With a wonderful script by Laurie Craig and starring 14 Blue-Crown Conures with Bette Davis eyes, Charlie Chaplin waddles and E.B. White world views, "Paulie" is a classic quest movie: Bird meets girl, bird loses girl, bird travels across the continent to find girl. Setting the movie as a flashback with Paulie recounting his story--to Russian emigre janitor Misha (Tony Shalhoub) who discovers the bird locked in the dungeon of an animal research institute--provides all the explanation needed to make our hero credible. He has the loyalty of Lassie, the vocabulary of Mr. Ed and the knack for meeting people of Stuart Little.
But don't think of "Paulie" as an animal movie; it's a love story that asks the very human question: When should you speak up and when should you remain silent? Paulie learns to talk (in the voice of the busy Jay Mohr) as his human friend Marie tries to overcome her stutter. Marie couldn't talk, Dad couldn't listen and Mom couldn't cope, Paulie tells Misha. The father (fathers, cats and scientists don't fare well here) gets rid of Paulie anyway because he thinks Marie is getting too attached to him. His love for her is a debt that must be repaid.
Epic quest movies are episodic by nature, and Paulie's adventures include a stint in a pawn shop where he learns to sing "What's New, Pussycat?" and insult customers, and where he meets Ivy (Gena Rowlands), an artist who teaches him manners and how to fly. Ivy takes him home to Marie, but the family has moved west to Los Angeles, so off they go in Ivy's Winnebago.
Rowlands fills the screen with a grace and a humanity that teaches Paulie more than just to say "please." When she can no longer drive, Paulie stays with her. When she dies, Paulie recalls her lessons and--for the first time--flies on toward Los Angeles.
He arrives in East L.A., where he gets a steady gig singing backup in a taco-stand band trained by Ignacio (Cheech Marin). He plays Pip to the Gladys Knight of the fair Lupe, the prettiest parrot in L.A., who wins Paulie's heart by repeating his own declarations of affection. It's a great life until Benny (also Mohr) birdnaps Paulie and forces him into a life of crime in exchange for a promise to help him find Marie. This leads to a life sentence as a prisoner of conscience in the research institute in which Misha finds him.
The birds playing Paulie were selected and trained by Boone Narr, who trained the mice in DreamWorks' most successful movie to date, "Mouse Hunt." But Paulie has none of that film's violence or cynicism.
Yes, you can drop the kids at "Paulie" and see something a little more R, but you'd be encouraging Hollywood to keep dividing movies (and us) into silly for children, stupid for young teens, shocking for older teens and sexually dysfunctional for everyone else. And you'd be missing a chance to see what a family movie is supposed to be.
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