Released on the 22nd February, Netflix’s Paddleton straddles the wide, wide line between buddy comedy and complete existential devastation. Following Mark Duplass’ Michael on his journey into terminal cancer and euthanasia alongside his best friend and neighbor, Andy (Ray Romano), the film subtly focuses on one major theme. That theme is prevalent in each and every facet of the pair’s lives – unavoidable injustice.
Despite only having a 90 minute run-time, the film manages to stretch every second of the first hour into a patient, low budget indie flick. However, as the momentum increases, and ‘the time’ comes, Andy’s anger turns to acceptance, and Michael’s calmness turns to fear. Anger at the unfairness of living, and calmness at the undeniable outcome of being alive. Alexandre Lehmann’s use of long shots and closeups forces an awareness of these emotions, and however nuanced, the audience’s emotion is felt.
Through the ambiguous time period leading up to Michael’s death, the buildup is relatively understated. On first viewing, it’s reasonable to expect a ‘last ride’ type story, but the road trip in the film is rather uneventful. This non-event is what, in my opinion, makes the film pack such an emotional punch. The theme of masculinity, too, is brought about by the lack of reaction the difficult reality gets. At least, the lack of a similar reaction shared by the two friends. As Michael gets closer to death, the pair’s walls are broken down, the impact is felt, and the emotional climax of the film is coaxed out.
The ending. Not the last scene. The ending. Michael’s ending. The sudden existential anxiety, Michael’s desperate struggle and Andy’s helplessness, and then the quiet. Through this climax, the injustice of this film is truly felt. The deep feeling of unfairness makes it so hard to see, like an innocence lost. Michael was the young one, the generous one, the fun one, but also the one diagnosed with cancer. This injustice dives head first into human empathy, and challenges it to help what it so fears. Andy’s denial is the lens for this empathy, and through him, the sadness refracts into bitter-sweetness, warmth, and an appreciation for the important friends we have.
By balancing a refreshing intimacy and a touching story of loss, Paddleton is quiet, heartbreaking, and soul lifting. During the story finale, Michael holds Andy’s hand, reassuring him that he loves him. Andy does the same. The relationship they share is innocuous, inconspicuous, and irreversibly impactful. Paddleton is the most I have cried at a film for a long time. Actually, Paddleton is the most I have cried at all in a long time. Please, watch Paddleton.