Review by David Baldwin
I turn 32 this weekend, so my future mortality has been top of mind as of late. I am not sure if 22-year-old me would be excited or disappointed at who I have become. I have had highs, lows and plenty of what-have-yous over the past 10 years and am literally coming off the most exciting year of my life. Some of these moments were planned, some not so much. Some were those classic “Jesus Take the Wheel” moments you can never have too many of. So while my writing situation is less than ideal at this given moment (a grungy food court in downtown Toronto where a couple is breaking up feet away from me), I was very much in the right frame of mind to watch Paddleton, the latest Netflix film from the Duplass Brothers.
Paddleton revolves Michael (Co-Writer Mark Duplass) and Andy (Ray Romano), best friends who live in the same apartment complex. They are both single and hang out together often – mostly at Michael’s place, which is on the ground floor directly below Andy’s. Michael has terminal cancer and has been given only months to live. Neither are ready to lose the other, but Michael wants to be sure he makes the decision on how he leaves this world.
It may not sound like much based on the description (the film is deliberately low-fi, but not quite as Mumblecore as other films produced by the Duplass Brothers), but Paddleton is easily one of the most emotionally raw films I have seen in many months. Director/Co-Writer Alex Lehmann has crafted a truly moving film not just about friendship, but about platonic love, regret and ultimately, death. We learn so much about these two men through mundane and often hilarious conversations, and just by watching how expressive they become. The bond and chemistry between them is genuine and real, and watching Duplass and Romano work off each other is a thing of beauty. It reminded me a lot of Lehmann’s film Blue Jay — another low-fi film starring and co-written by Duplass that centres around two characters and their conversations. Thankfully this film is slightly less devastating, but seeing the rich scope of emotions Lehmann is able to pull out of his actors makes me really excited to see whatever project he has coming up next.
Both Duplass and Romano are quite great, giving tragicomic performances that go against the grain of what they are best known for. Duplass continues to impress in these deeper explorations of human interaction, bringing a specific lived in quality to Michael and the journey ahead of him. He brings plenty of nuance to the role, and taps into the same kind of riveting emotional core he was able to mine to brilliant effect in Blue Jay. Romano is even better and practically revelatory, giving a fragile and insightful performance I never thought possible from this gifted comedian. He is quiet in some scenes, and loud and overbearing in others. Watching him slowly break down as he comes to terms with Michael’s future is a thing of beauty. It is not often that we see an actor allow themselves to be so vulnerable and natural, but both Duplass and Romano are able to do it here — and it makes their performances stronger.
Paddleton will not be for everyone. But those who turn it off quickly will risk missing out on some of the richest and most genuinely emotional work either of these terrific actors have ever put out. I knew Duplass was capable of something this raw, but never thought Romano was capable of putting in something this deep. Here’s hoping this is just the start of a whole new career trajectory for him.