REVIEW: Paddleton (2019)

Release Poster – Netflix

The following is a quick review of Paddleton — Directed by Alex Lehmann.

There is a way to sugarcoat and refuse to spoil what Paddleton is really about. I could tell you that it’s just about two old friends and neighbors playing some game they invented for 90 minutes. I could feed you some line about how it becomes surprisingly moving or something like that.

But, I’m not going to do that, because Alex Lehmann’s Paddleton essentially reveals its nature in its very first scene in which it is revealed that Mark Duplass’ Michael is suffering from terminal cancer. Paddleton, though — yes — named after the game that is two friends’ own invention, is a film about assisted suicide, saying goodbye, and reluctantly coming to terms with a loss.

In Paddleton, Ray Romano plays Andy, the upstairs neighbor and best friend of Michael (Mark Duplass) who, in the film’s first scene, learns that he has terminal cancer. Michael doesn’t want to die in a hospital, he doesn’t want to fight for life and hope for a miracle, he just wants to go out on his own terms.

So, Michael asks his friend to go with him on a road trip to acquire pills that will allow him to take his own life in a humane way. Though Andy wants to help Michael, he clearly struggles with being his right-hand man. Andy doesn’t want to lose his friend, but it isn’t his decision to make.

Alex Lehmann’s last directorial feature, Blue Jay, also went straight-to-Netflix, and, even though I don’t think his second film is quite as strong as his first, both of his, now, two films have an undeniable realism and relatability to them. With that having been said, it should be noted that it is the person-to-person relationship and heartbreak that is relatable and realistic but not every detail of Lehmann’s story, which, as far as I am aware, bends the truth quite a bit to allow for the characters to buy assisted suicide pills at an American pharmacy.

Composed of many unexciting, likely improvised conversation between neighbors until the film’s crescendo, this mumblecore film doesn’t have grand, epic speeches (even though they do talk about a great half-time speech time and time again) or much of a plot other than the general premise. But it does have an ending that actually broke me a little bit thanks in large part to Ray Romano who really impressed me here. There is an anxious authenticity to his character that he plays with ease.

Alex Lehmann’s Paddleton is, to a certain extent, a Duplass Brothers-mumblecore version of Jonathan Levine’s 50/50, which is a personal favorite of mine. Romano and Duplass do a terrific job acting against each other, with Ray Romano adding a lot of emotional heft to the major scene in the third act.

Paddleton won’t be on anyone’s radar twelve months from now, but it is a fairly realistic and utterly relatable film about learning to accept the inevitable and saying goodbye. Mumblecore isn’t for everyone so the majority of the film may not be terribly exciting for your average Netflix subscriber, but the conclusion of the film is an emotional punch to the gut with exceptional naturalistic acting from the two actors at the center of the film.

7.5 out of 10

– Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

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