Film review: Paddleton
An endearing buddy-tale filled with poignancy of impermanence
For a film dealing with a character with terminal cancer, 'Paddleton' hardly dwells on the cliché pathos often attached to it. Even when the character, Michael, gets to know that he probably has cancer, it doesn’t affect him too deeply at the time. The moment turns into humor and doesn't linger over a tragic tone. His friend Andy starts asking about the probability of cancer, according to her, almost like a guessing game. At that point, it was unclear to us, just as to his nurse, what their relationship is. “We’re Neighbours”, “Yeah, I live upon him”, they say. The childlike simplicity is clearly visible in it. Looking at them, they hardly seem to care how they’re perceived by the world beyond them either.
They had a game created that only the two knew the rules for. Paddleton, as they called it, was according to their rules; which they often played on an old drive-in theatre. They used to watch Kung-fu movies together, eat pizza, sit on the couch and play puzzles while having nothing better to do. The cancer diagnosis doesn’t fundamentally change much of it. It just makes their platonic friendship even more endearing.
Michael (Mark Duplass) is diagnosed with cancer as mentioned before and he hardly seems to have been affected by it. He is rather calm, relaxed unlike his close friend Andy (Ray Romano) whose idiosyncratic behavior fills with even more anxiety, now that his companion isn’t going to be with him forever. With the diagnosed cancer, Michael naturally starts to seek for easier ways to deal with it. Not having any ambitions or goals for his life further, he has no clear reason to survive with resulting pain from the treatment. He rather decides to go through medically prescribed suicide.
His decision of not going through the procedure is not something Andy could live with. Even if he agrees to assist, his frustration and underlying sadness are apparent even through the small gestures. He is the optimistic one from the couple, even if the hope is rooted in slightly selfish needs. He wants Michael to stay longer, more precisely because he would be the one left behind. It doesn’t feel odd with the man-child personas that they had. And looking at their awkward social interactions, it makes even more sense. We feel sorry for the friend than the patient himself.
They are supposed to take pills from a place for which they plan a road-trip together. Although both of them knew what was coming at the end of this trip, Andy was slacking probably to get as much time as he could. Humour isn’t lost even in the slightest. And you can see the sheer contrast in other people’s behavior towards them, where both of them were almost goofing around like kids. Although they were on a road trip, it wasn’t like filling out a bucket-list in any way.
There was a reason why people thought of them to be a couple. Andy was insecure about sharing Micheal with anyone else. Even a small friendly talk made him jealous. But when someone asked either of them if they’re a gay couple, they avoided the conversation. Their interactions and goofy arguments almost felt like an old couple fighting with one another. Yet the reason they always hung-out together was because they shared their inhibitions which resisted them to have any other strong relationship. In a conversation towards the end of the film, Michael shares memories about the only relationship he had in the past. It was amusing not just for Andy, but for Michael himself for how unlikely it was.
Both the performances have a big part in making the film even more organic and believable. Casting Ray Romano in the role of insecure, childlike Andy was the single best thing about the film. He bares the poignancy of this situation on his shoulders and is an equal amount of funny as vulnerable. Particularly a scene at the end, where he has to deal with his own grief while helping out his friend in what would possibly kill him, his diffused emotions reflected the trauma he must be going through. It further compliments Duplass’ rather understated performance.
Although its humor is what makes it worthwhile, director Alexandre Lehmann with his writing partner Mark Duplass, never let the poignancy leave its essence. Towards the tragic third act, it builds up to the effective moment solely based on those bittersweet interactions. Half of its success is making us care for these bystanders who have been misfits for most of their lives. Thanks to their wonderful chemistry that we feel the affection pouring down from the screen.