Paddleton (2019)

“We’re neighbors.”

A staple in cinema of late, the Bromance tends to trend towards the comedy genre. It’s easier to really convince us of a close friendship when gross gags and insult comedy are in play, especially since that is a major component of many male-male relationships I’ve experienced and seen. Paddleton fits into that description because it’s downright funny, at times even of the laugh-out-loud variety, but it’s also a sobering, intimate drama the likes of which the Bromance hasn’t seen since 2011’s excellent 50/50. Both films ask a similar question: how do you – or can you – prepare for the possible loss of your very best friend? The void has to be filled, and Paddleton reassures us that our inevitable passing is only the beginning of a new existence inside another person. Pretty heavy stuff for a movie starring two great comedic actors.

A mass in his stomach. Lesions on his liver. Michael (Mark Duplass) is sick, abruptly even gravely so. There with him to hear the bad news is Andy (Ray Romano), the older of this odd-couple duo. They’re neighbors, best friends, grown men who behave like boyish blood brothers. Michael lives on the ground floor and Andy calls home to the one directly above. Days are filled working meaningless, unfulfilling jobs. At night they normally make homemade pizzas, do puzzles, play trivial pursuit, obsessively watch and recite their favorite kung-fu film “Death Punch” (a made-up movie perfectly echoing the story’s themes). The two have a routine and rarely do they dare to waver from the comfort of what they’ve built between them. Michael’s cancer comes back as terminal though (which shouldn’t be a spoiler, it’s included in the film’s synopsis). Things will change whether they like it or not.

From there Paddleton becomes a road movie, following them on a long drive to retrieve Michael’s end of life medicine, and the story makes good on the growing tension between them. Michael doesn’t want to waste away to nothing. Andy doesn’t want to be completely alone again. Both can fairly be charged with selfishness, although Andy’s can sometimes come across as pure petulance. And while the drama of Paddleton is about as basic as it gets, the simplistic nature hardly renders the emotions any less complex or powerful. In fact, I think simplicity is the key component to the success of Duplass’ writing projects; they don’t need great outbursts or flare because the people at the center are carved with such clarity.

You might be wondering what the movie’s title means. Paddleton is the name of the game – their game – that Michael and Andy made up. Think outdoor squash with an old rusty barrel incorporated into the scoring. They play for fun, not for keeps, and the game becomes framed as a significant metaphor for life’s up and down journey. You win some and you lose some. Unfairly, every so often people have to call it quits before their time is up. Paddleton carefully hides all of these musings on the human condition in a plain package that’s been wrapped with a sense of humor, and inside is a poignant message that’s both devastating, uplifting, and ultimately enlightening. This is the kind of fleet-footed, fulfilling movie you can watch when you’re in the mood to run the full of range of emotions.

“He’s always with me, but he’s also gone.”

Rating: 4 out of 5

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