By Ari Berk
With all the fanfare surrounding Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma this Oscar season, another solid Netflix original drama has flown largely under the radar.
Paddleton, starring Ray Romano (Everybody Loves Raymond) and Mark Duplass (The League), tells the story of two middle-aged friends and neighbors, Michael and Andy, whose simple, kung-fu-movie-filled lives are turned upside down by Michael’s (Duplass) terminal cancer diagnosis. Seeing as there is no cure for what Michael has, he asks Andy (Romano) to help him end his life before the cancer does.
The plot of this gorgeously shot, refreshingly brief (one-hour, thirty-minute) film thus has very simple stakes--for Michael and Andy to enjoy the last few weeks of Michael’s life. But, as one would expect, Andy, while he agrees to help his friend die with dignity, struggles with the concept of assisted suicide. Romano is a skillful actor, and his talent shines through in the several scenes where Andy attempts to get a handle on his tasks. Sometimes Andy is irrational, but only human--a balance Romano handles deftly. And sometimes Andy’s confusion at how to deal with this scenario leads to funny moments--one standout scene being when Andy attempts to pay for Michael’s $3,500 euthanasia medicine (“I know what it is, but I have more money than you”) and has his credit card declined, leading to more than a few chuckles from Michael.
But it’s Duplass who shines brightest in this buddy dramedy. While one may not have expected Duplass to demonstrate such dramatic skill after watching his performance as Pete Eckhart in the raunchy fantasy football TV comedy The League, he plays the dying Michael with a delicate balance of vulnerability and pragmatism. He shoulders his death sentence with grit and ends up annoyed, at times, with Andy’s grief, which he wears on his sleeve. And yet, in the moving final scenes of the movie, Michael’s fear comes to the surface, along with Duplass’s supremely underrated acting chops.
Not everything about Paddleton works. The movie struggles with pacing, especially in the middle. This is because there are no meaningful supporting characters, which was probably an intentional move by the filmmakers to allow the story to focus on Michael and Andy. But no matter how talented Romano and Duplass are, it’s difficult for them to carry a whole movie plot by themselves in a manner that keeps us engaged and the story moving at all times.
Where Paddleton does work, though, is in its humor, emotional depth, and tenderness. Romano and Duplass are tasked with making this movie great, a load which they mostly shoulder with skill and heart. If you’re in the mood for an emotional movie with a bit of comedy on top of it, Paddleton fits the bill very nicely.
Rating: 7 / 10