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Besides the Creep (soon to be) trilogy and the epic FX series The League, my love for the Duplass brothers has wilted over the years. Luckily for fans, Paddleton, a heavily dramatic comedy, is a quirky, awkward trip between two neighbors, and one of which is nearing the end of his life.
Alex Lehmann helms this darkly emotional comedy which is his third feature film and his second time collaborating with Duplass (Blue Jay). The film is an isolated slow burn, and hardly ever reaching for new characters beyond a few they must run into along the way. Tasteful and depressing, Lehmann’s direction captures the torment a friend must go through while watching his pal experience the process of dying. In such a short amount of time, you’re able to understand their bond, and while you earn little backstory as to who these people are outside of the friendship, the movie focuses in on just the friendship and nothing more. With misguided direction, Paddleton could have easily been not only a drag to sit through but one where the main characters are disposable - luckily with phenomenal writing and fluent direction by Lehmann, every ounce of emotion is put to its full effect.
Two friendly neighbors learn of one’s terminal disease and decide to take a road trip to find a drug to permanently rid him of the pain to come. To those wondering what Paddleton is, it’s a game of racquetball, but where the objective is to get the ball in a barrel. The two play this game together throughout the film. Duplass and Lehmann wrote the screenplay for Paddleton, and the story is straightforward, yet unlike anything we’ve seen before; the film doesn’t shy away from diving deep. Paddleton is a lot of things that could make for a bad film: a lack of characters, a depressing subject matter, incredibly dark humor, and a lead that can come off as irritating for his forceful, clingy behavior. But, thanks to the powerful writing by Duplass, as well as direction by Lehmann, the film abolished those issues as the last thirty minutes slam the hammer down into the harsh reality that is life.
ACTING | CHARACTERS | DIALOGUE:
The film primarily focuses on a pair of neighbors, (AKA friends) Michael and Andy. Ray Romano plays the awkward and majorly annoying Andy with his loud, forceful energy once he learns of the trip Andy is prepared to take to end his life faster. I have seen the film twice now, and the first viewing left me up to the fifteen minute mark questioning whether or not I enjoyed it. Now that I’ve had time to sit, re-watch, and digest it, the film is a great drama about two odd friends making the last few days of their friendship count. Mark Duplass and Ray Romano rule the screen, making for an unlikely pair that you didn’t know you cared so much for until the final moments of decision making for the ill Michael. Mark Duplass and Ray Romano make those last few minutes heart wrenching to watch as you can see the horror taking over MIchael’s confidence of what’s to come and Andy switching roles to become the comfort Michael needs for the last moments of their friendship. Ray Romano and Mark Duplass are an unlikely pairing, but they come out of Paddleton with more chemistry and feeling than anyone could have ever expected to get out of this emotional rollercoaster.
VISUAL EFFECTS | MAKEUP | DESIGN:
MUSIC | SCORE | SOUND DESIGN:
Indie composer Julian Wass has worked with Duplass multiple times in the past, along with Lehmann, so his score feels right at home with this dramedy. He replaced eerie undertones from films such as Creep 2 with dramatic subtleties. Paddleton works so well because of how the characters are never overwhelmed by an overcompensating score. The only times that the score takes full effect are in moments like the opening Racquetball sequence showing the pair having mutual fun in slow motion. Wass’ score is well coordinated and understands when to share the limelight with the stars of the film, with his simplistic approach.
The visual representation of Paddleton (the game) is striking, as they show less of the game itself than the pair enjoying themselves while playing. The walls chosen to use and the placement of the barrel create almost an artistic rendering of what this made-up game would look like if filmed and put on display in an art exhibit. It’s that unique and interesting to watch, however they work so well because of how short the scenes are. The final scene is shot so beautifully, partially due to the preparation, and partially due to the harsh reality put into place by the powerful performance by Duplass. In most regards, Mark Duplass’ Michael looks like most other characters the actor has taken on, however Romano looks entirely different from his awkward hairstyle to his unflattering outfits; the makeup/costume department made him into someone entirely new, someone that you can’t believe has Ray Romano’s voice coming out of him.
Netflix’s Paddleton is a one of a kind film, and while the film may feel awkward at times due to the characters on screen, once the emotional conclusion comes into play, all those awkward feelings come with some resolution. With thought provoking performances by Duplass and Romano, along with well choreographed scenes with what seems like no improvised content (even though there likely was), Paddleton prevails with its final moments and easy to follow narrative that effortlessly makes the less sensitive struggle to keep a tear in.