Mark Duplass and his brother Jay have been dedicated to producing low-budget, intimate films that hold the essence of the art of filmmaking within them. Their 2019 production Paddleton, also starring Ray Romano alongside Mark Duplass, was a poignant twist on the buddy comedy genre that dealt with various heavyweight issues including cancer and euthanasia.
Alex Lehmann’s Paddleton is the kind of film that will make you bawl your eyes out and later feel guilty about it. If watching beautiful bromances unfold and later culminate into bittersweet tragedies is something that you like, Paddleton should be your go-to movie. It sees the two middle-aged protagonists Michael and Andy, who are neighbours in a low-rent complex, find friendship and warmth in one another. Their friendship serves as a beautiful escape from their daily drudgeries of life, pangs of isolation and loneliness. The opening shot sees the duo slamming tennis balls at the closed shutters of a warehouse, carefree, while the only sound that accompanies the shot is the familiar sound of the bouncing balls.
Supported by their ordinary daytime jobs, the duo finds solace in their nights that comprise pizza, kung fu flicks and puzzles. They do not need to talk much and the voluminous silence helps them reach a platonic level of understanding, love and respect. Michael’s calm nature is in contrast with Andy’s paranoid one and Andy is always calmed down by Michael’s constant words of reassurance.
However, Michael’s sudden diagnosis of terminal cancer leads to him deciding upon euthanasia as his only course of action, much to the chagrin of Andy who cannot bring himself to cope with the news. Despite his initial inhibitions, he caves in and agrees to accompany Michael on a weekend trip to get his prescription drugs. There they hit a tourist town, they socialise and drink and make the most of their time together.
Amidst all the buzz, Michael, who is aware of the huge gulf his death would be leaving in Andy’s heart, compels the latter to be amicable with strangers and even find love. The intimate shots and close-ups highlight how closely their personalities resonate. Even in times of conflict, their brotherly love is transcendental.
Romano and Duplass support the film on their able shoulders and their heartfelt, sincere performances add a raw sentimental value to the film. In the climactic moment, Duplass’ Michael is oddly calm and well-equipped to deal with the process of leaving behind his friend forever.
A poignant character study of the duo helps the film explore the deepest and darkest corner of human emotions and highlights the transience of life. The men revel in their short-lived friendship and happiness before being torn apart brutally by the forces of nature. It is a tale of grief and friendship, joy and sorrow that are bound together by the oscillation between life and death.
The film does not make philosophical or intellectual observations about the theme of death. It presents death quite matter-of-factly and that is what is so gut-wrenchingly beautiful about it. Death is not a momentous journey- it is just a part of life and one must learn to accept it as fluidly and realistically as Michael does while Andy wallows in his room, fearing the imminent loss of his dear buddy.
Paddleton is now streaming on Netflix!