Director: Alex Lehmann | Runtime: 1h 29mins | Comedy, Drama
Two neighbours in California have to take a unexpected emotional journey when the younger of the pair, Michael (Mark Duplass) is diagnosed with incurable cancer and given a short time left. Andy (Ray Romano) helps him through the process and supports Michael in fulfilling the plan he lays out to cope with the situation.
The second outing for Mark Duplass and Alex Lehmann comes a few years after their subdued black and white film Blue Jay (which you can read our review of here) is again written by both, and directed by Lehmann. Another quietly dramatic piece, it was also released on Netflix after a few festival screenings.
Paddleton is very forward with how it wants to show the sensitive topic at its heart; opening with Andy and Michael at the doctors finding out about the illness of the latter. At first they struggle to grasp the severity of the diagnosis, Andy attempting to gauge it by awkwardly wording his concern and skirting round the real question they need to know; is it terminal? It becomes apparent that it is, and the pair are left to process the news.
Neither really have anyone else in their lives; Andy works at a large office and detests small talk. They only really spend time with each other consisting of completing puzzles, watching Michaels favourite kung fu movie and playing their made-up game of paddleton. Even after the diagnosis their routine hardly changes. Michael is aware of his numbered days and decides the way he wants to spend them is with Andy. The heart of the film really comes from the earnestness of the relationship between the two; neither wanted more outside of their friendship, which makes the situation they’re in that more difficult to deal with.
A minor spoiler but integral to talking about the crux of the film revolves around the decision that Michael makes early on to take his own life, saying that he doesn’t want to spend the rest of his time in hospital. It’s a hard truth for Andy to take though as obviously he doesn’t want his friend to suffer, but he wants him to fight as much as he can, referencing those that had been given six months to live and ended up climbing Everest.
In terms of Duplass and Romano’s performances, there isn’t really anything more you could want them to do. Duplass is set in his way, able to bring the emotional weight when required (something he lacked in the later stages of Blue Jay) and consistently in a battle with Andy over the decisions he’s made – something that is a real highlight of the script by the duo. They managed to have the conflict between the two very indirect for most of the film, neither really wanting to cause any issues in their relationship because of how Michael’s chosen to deal with this. As good as Duplass might be though, Romano brings a dramatic display that he hasn’t had the chance to show that much of before. He still has his comedic side that he’s mostly known for, but he really gets to pull his dramatic weight, really carrying much of the emotion for both him and Michael who really doesn’t confront the journey he’s about to take.
Even when going down this path though, they try to keep everything as normal as possible and many times forgo really engaging with the issue for their everyday life; for example, they’re cooking pizza’s at Michaels whilst talking about making the trip to get the medication that will end his life, and midway through discussing the logistics Andy has a mini rant about how the stove burnt their food. It’s simple storytelling, but effectively gets across how the pair really don’t want to go through with it, but know it’s best for Michael.
In their second outing, Duplass and Lehmann have created a very simplistic but hugely affective story about friendship, love and death. Some might find the first hour to not be hugely entertaining, but really this is where we learn about the pair which is why the last 30 minutes are so deeply engaging and moving, which that alone makes this worth the watch.