Paddleton (2019) ☆☆☆(3/4): Two close friends facing mortality

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“Paddleton”, which had its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in last month and then released on Netflix on this Friday, is a little character drama about two close friends suddenly facing mortality and then trying to deal with it. While we get a number of amusing moments as these two characters frequently push and pull each other over their impending matter, their story later becomes something more poignant than expected, and we are consequently moved as observing how deep their emotional bond is.

Mark Duplass and Ray Romano play Michael and Andy, two ordinary bachelors who have been quite close to each other since Michael came to live right below Andy’s residence in their apartment building some years ago. The early part of the film shows us how they often spend their free time together, and we are rather amused as noticing that they are pretty much like a couple in many ways even though they are just longtime friends. While it often looks like there is not anyone around them in their mundane life, they are very comfortable with being with each other alone, and they are happy whenever they watch their favorite old kung fu flick together or play their own squash tennis game called ‘Paddleton’ at an abandoned outdoor movie theater.

However, as shown in the opening scene, there comes a bad news for Michael. After getting examined at a hospital, he is told that he has seriously ill due to cancer, and it soon turns out that he does not have much time to live. Although looking calmer than his friend when he heard this bad news, Michael is quite devastated and depressed nonetheless, and he eventually comes to consider ending his life before his condition becomes far worse.

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While understandably reluctant to lose his friend, Andy agrees to help Michael. For getting the enough amount of a certain drug for his euthanasia, Michael needs to go to some resort town outside their neighborhood, and Andy willingly accompanies his friend during what may be their last journey. Shortly after arriving in that town, they get that certain drug along with a couple of other drugs to help Michael’s euthanasia, and then they come to spend the night at a local hotel.

Leisurely moving from one episodic moment to another along with its two main characters, the movie generates several nice moments for small good laughs. I liked how comedy and drama are deftly mixed together during the scene unfolded at a local pharmacy, and I was also tickled a bit by a silly scene involved with a woman running the hotel.

In the meantime, the movie also recognizes how serious Michael and Andy’s situation is. While Michael becomes more determined to stick to his plan, Andy wants his friend to have second thoughts on that, and he tries as much as he can in his own passive way. Constantly standing by his friend, he also buys a small pink safe just for distracting Michael’s mind from his euthanasia plan, and that leads to a moment which initially looks absurd but eventually heartbreaking as they come to let out their respective feelings about the inevitable end of their friendship.

What follows after that dramatic highpoint is handled with considerable care and sensitivity. Through their brief but meaningful emotional journey, Andy comes to respect what his friend wants, and the movie gives us a series of quiet but touching moments under the thoughtful direction of director/co-writer Alex Lehmann, who previously made a modest but notable feature film debut with “Blue Jay” (2016).

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The movie depends a lot on its two lead performers, and they ably carry the film together with their engaging duo performance. Duplass, who wrote the screenplay with Lehmann while also participating in the production of the film along with his brother Jay Duplass and his co-star, steadily holds the ground with his understated performance, and he did a good job of subtly conveying to us his character’s growing melancholy along with some sense of humor. While he is aware more and more of his approaching death, Michael also wants to live as much as he can, and that is exemplified well by a humorously awkward moment when Michael tries to draw others’ attention as telling them about that favorite old kung fu flick of his.

Opposite to Duplass, Ray Romano, who has been mainly known for TV sitcom series “Everybody Loves Raymond”, is equally solid while showing his more serious side as he previously did in “The Big Sick” (2017). He and Duplass are always interesting to watch as their characters interact in one way or another on the screen, and we can always sense the long history between their characters, which is the main reason why the last act of the film works so well on the emotional level.

Although it may require some patience for its dry and earnest storytelling approach as well as its rather slow narrative pacing, “Paddleson” is worthwhile to watch for its genuine intimate moments, and I appreciate what is achieved by Lehmann, Duplass, and Romano here in this film. In short, this is a simple but solid piece of work worthwhile to watch for a number of good reasons, and I recommend you to give it a chance someday.

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