Paddleton movie review: Netflix's new bromantic film is wonderfully warm for those who find humour in the macabre

Mihir Fadnavis

Mar 01, 2019 11:10:11 IST

4/5

It is a despondent but undeniable reality that people in your neighborhood could be carrying a ticking time bomb inside their bodies, and you would have no idea of it. Their entire existence, at some point, would fade away, but do we ever reach a plane of detachment regarding these people, however friendly or unfriendly they were with you? To pretend that they did not matter is to lie to yourself.

 Paddleton movie review: Netflixs new bromantic film is wonderfully warm for those who find humour in the macabre

A still from Paddleton. YouTube

Such is the delicate message of Paddleton, a wonderfully warm and bromantic new Netflix film, starring Ray Romano and mumblecore king Mark Duplass. Picked up directly from its Sundance premiere a moth ago, the appeal of the film is generally confined to those who could find humour and sensitivity in the macabre. Although that seems like a narrow tunneling of target audiences, in actuality the emotional resonance it generates is more ubiquitous than expected.

The setup is simple. Mike (Duplass) and Andy (Romano) are buddies, and one of them gets diagnosed with cancer. They have no one else in the world, so the only way to deal with the incoming storm is to hang out with each other until the situation is resolved. The aforementioned resolution is not something you expect, and how they go about the patient’s decision is piercing filmmaking that commands enough non-manipulative sensitivity to stir up our emotions.  

This is directed by Alex Lehmann, who has previous collaborated with Duplass in Blue Jay, another quietly effective mumblecore indie. This one too takes its time to build but deploys in the final 20 minutes an unexpected emotional bomb. The directional style demands from the viewer a certain degree of imagination, and a capacity for objectivity in our everyday life and the people that float like spectres around us. As Mike and Andy go about their journey, the story swings deftly between humour and lament, effortlessly tapping into raw emotions, mainly fuelled by the notion of how truly alone we are in this world, what lengths one could go to grant someone their final wish, and how vacant and inconsequential everything feels when the storm has passed.

Duplass (who also co-wrote this) once again brings his offbeat brand of weary and low key intensity here. Romano, who is generally known for comedy, renders ironic dispassion which sort of remarks on the situation that his character finds himself in, as opposed to the character itself. Both roles are difficult to pull considering how we have seen a similar setup in other films which treat the cancer revelation as a plot vehicle. Both Romano and Duplass, however, manage to find new point of views, particularly on their reactions to certain situations. We do not learn much about their characters’ backstories to understand why they ended up the way they did but somehow, it hardly matters when what is happening in the present is so absorbing.  

Lehmann and Duplass’ script has all the trope trademarks of something issue-intense and yet is dramatically inert, the combination of which makes for unpredictable unfolding of moments. At many points, you keep expecting the film to fizzle because of its utter unwillingness to create any loud ‘cinematic’ drama, but there is something weirdly effective about this artistic choice, which includes a moment when a medical store clerk who sells euthanasia tablets hangs out with our heroes for a beer and gets into an unintentional scuffle with Romano’s character. Eventually, the accumulated details of the film, especially the cameo splashes from the titular plot point (which is a game that the two friends in this story have made up) as well as a strangely hilarious moment the friends share in a pool with a motel owner, culminate in a distinctive sadness about one of our world’s worsening institutional tragedies — that despite being more connected to each other than ever before, we are far more isolated as individuals.

Although everything in Paddleton is of Western variety, as an Indian, I was caught off guard by what the film made me realise — that even though death has come out of the closet in Indian social situations, it is still not openly experienced or discussed. Instead of escaping, allowing death to be strongly present deepens both the value of each moment of life and our inattention to them. To be deprived of feeling what we are entitled to feel is emotional jail, Luckily, we have cinema on Netflix to break out of it.

Paddleton is now streaming on Netflix.

Rating: ****

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Updated Date: Mar 01, 2019 11:10:11 IST