Another solid addition to the mumblecore filmography.
Synopsis: An unlikely friendship between two misfit neighbors becomes an unexpectedly emotional journey when the younger man is diagnosed with terminal cancer. (IMDB)
Starring: Mark Duplass, Ray Romano, and Alexandra Billings
Writers: Mark Duplass and Alex Lehmann
Director: Alex Lehmann
Running Time: 89mins
Longing hides in every scene of Paddleton, a new dramedy from the people behind 2016’s Blue Jay. Similar to Blue Jay, Paddleton is another comedy about a duo starring and co-written by Mark Duplass, but that’s about where the similarities end. Aside from the charmingly rambling nature of both films, and Alex Lehmann’s soft directorial touch, the two are pretty separate, but similarly good. Both movies about two people who either need, or deserve each other, Paddleton is an interesting exercise in the genre of “cancer and comedy”, while still being true to Duplass’ mumblecore sensibilities.
Starting in the greyest, most depressing room of a doctor’s office, we meet both Mike (Duplass), and his peculiar friend Andy (Romano) who learn that Mike has cancer. Mike decides he wants to get medicine that will allow him to end his life when he choses, leading Mike and Andy to go on a roadtrip to pick it up. That’s the technical synopsis of Paddleton, but it’s heart is less concerned in story, and more the two people before us. It’s about the things that connect the two, the frozen pizzas that they share, a game they made up entitled Paddleton. It shows a deep and genuine platonic relationship wonderfully. It’s a portrayal of two people who seemed destined together, and eventually have to learn that they won’t be able to be.
Both Romano and Duplass are quite solid here. Duplass’ performance may get a slight edge due to his acting, or maybe just due to Romano’s awkward character who brings out the discomfort in every situation. But along with that, Duplass does create a genuine character out of very little. He’s sporting a bushy and clumsy mustache, but it seems to fit him. Both of them wallow in the uncomfortable parts of life, but each of them seem to fit each other. Subdued mannerisms and childish moments are common for both actors here, but they both do a lot by carving out real people with just a wig and a mustache.
And yet, the highlight of this little film are the quietest moments. Common, but not necessarily everyday experiences pinpoint Paddleton, and make it something that you’ll recognize in yourself, while still not being a boring story. Most importantly, it’s actually Andy’s story. It’s a movie about how Andy doesn’t know what to do with himself, as he was defined by his best friend who is about to die. He longs for things to be just like they always are, but he knows he’s going to have to try harder and move out of his comfort zone when he loses his friend. Romano’s performance nails this perfectly, with his tone sounding like there’s an eternal frog in his throat, and a wig of hair that suggests he hates most people.
Thankfully, Paddleton is not a movie that’s quietly quirky for its own sake. At 90 or so minutes, it’s not self-indulgent, and it’s a movie that feels at heart in Duplass’ catalogue. It may not be a step up from director Alex Lehmann’s previous wonder, but it’s still a quiet ride. It’s movie that grasps you and hits you with an emotional kick at the end, but still is incredibly funny. It’s not perfect, but it sure isn’t the worst thing mumblecore could spit out this year.
*Paddleton will be available on Netflix starting Friday, February 22nd*
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