Paulie

****

Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Paulie is a parrot that speaks to people. So? Parrots say any old thing if you teach them, even "Polly put the kettle on". This is different. Paulie has conversations and is wise enough to realise that too much talk gets him into trouble.

It all began with Marie. Or, to put it more accurately, it all begins with Misha (Tony Shalhoub). Paulie is stuck in a padlocked cage in the boiler room at the University. Misha is an immigrant Russian academic, working as a cleaner.

Misha and Paulie become friends. Paulie tells Misha about Marie and how he came to be imprisoned in the boiler room. The movie is Paulie's story, which begins in New Jersey and ends in California.

Marie is a little girl with a stutter. On her fifth birthday, she is given Paulie as a present. Paulie's a baby then and can't fly yet. Flying is going to be a problem for Paulie. He's scared of it. He prefers to walk. Paulie and Marie are inseparable. They share their secrets. They tell each other everything. Marie's mum and dad don't know about this, or rather they do, but think Paulie is Marie's imaginary friend. What worries them most is her stutter. Eventually her father loses his patience ("Marie couldn't talk, dad couldn't listen, mum couldn't cope") and Paulie is dispatched to the pawn shop.

He has all sorts of adventures and is looked after by various, interesting people, including Ivy (Gena Rowlands) who paints and lives in a mobile home, Ignacio (Cheech Marin), a Mexican street musician, and Benny, an unambitious thief. Although each and everyone of them has a voluble, good relationship with Paulie, his sole desire is to find Marie again. Her family has moved out West. That much he knows. But where?

The story is told with compassion, simplicity and (dare I say it?) love. Unlike Eddie Murphy's Dr Doolittle, which overindulges talking animal tricks, Paulie never attempts to be too clever. Rowlands is charming and Shalhoub (best remembered as the passionate Italian chef in Big Night) heartbreaking. So much more than a feather brained kiddies' entertainment, the film demonstrates, with John Roberts' sensitive direction, DreamWorks' dictum that storytelling should be taken seriously.

Reviewed on: 19 Jan 2001
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Tales of a parrot and his pal.
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Director: John Roberts

Writer: Lawrie Craig

Starring: Gena Rowlands, Tony Shalhoub, Cheech Marin, Bruce Davison, Trini Alvarado, Jay Mohr, Buddy Hackett, Hallie Kate Eisenberg

Year: 1998

Runtime: 91 minutes

BBFC: U - Universal

Country: US

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