Paddleton (2019)

Directed by Alex Lehmann

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Michael and Andy (Mark Duplass, Ray Romano) are two friends and neighbors whose lives are defined by a healthy amount of stasis, even when Michael learns he has terminal cancer.

They watch and re-watch their favorite kung fu movies, reheat the same flavored pizzas and play a made up game (Paddleton) on the backside of a nearby, out of use drive in theater movie screen.  The film opens with Michael receiving his diagnosis while Andy stands by his side, asking the questions Michael is unable, unwilling or uninterested in asking.

Michael is calm about his illness while Andy proves to be a bit more neurotic.  When Michael announces his plan to end his life on his own terms, using $3,500 pills bought legally from a pharmacy, Andy protests but not for long.  Their story will take place over several weeks or months as Michael grows more sick.

Paddleton is a tender, sincere little drama like many other Duplass brothers films (Mark and Jay produced this one), albeit with more gravitas than you expect.  It’s a portrait of common, unspectacular, wholesome friendship, set entirely in a very insular world, like the one you might share with your own best friend.

This world is made up of inside jokes (the movie’s title itself comes from their made up game) and references.  As they make a quick road trip to the same old fashioned town from Sideways, characters and possible storylines are brought up only to be abandoned.  It’s as if the movie wants to make us think we know where this is headed, whether that’s with sudden medical miracles or new love interests, only to let those things vanish.

At it’s heart Paddleton is just remarkably sincere and thoughtful.  These characters aren’t special in any way, and they’re characters marked mostly by the things that could be used to write easy sitcom jokes.  They are dorks, in the best possible way, and the film easily empathizes with these qualities.  I suppose what might make this movie work for audiences at home is that we must all feel like dorks to some degree.  The things you share with your best friend, whether a favorite movie, slang or memories, are surely ridiculous on some level.  They form a shared language, and Paddleton is about that language, that strange, heartfelt little space between two people.

So it’s a wonderful movie, and damn those closing scenes of the film really hit hard.  This is a story about friendship with a terminal illness in the background, but what makes Michael’s and Andy’s friendship unique has nothing to do with the illness.  It does, I suppose, provide an opportunity to see how far they’ll go for each other, but it’s used to shine a light on what is already there.

Up Next: Cast Away (2000), Greta (2018), Apollo 11 (2019)

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