The tragic (yet surprisingly comedic) Netflix film, “Paddleton,” follows the story of Michael, a man diagnosed with terminal cancer, and his best friend and neighbor, Andy, as they cope with Michael’s decision to end his own life. The film tackles the uncomfortable topic of physician-assisted suicide and the personal issues associated with it.
At times, it is easy to forget that Michael, penned and played by Mark Duplass, is at such a low point in his life. This is because the story doesn’t revolve his illness, but instead focuses on the beautiful friendship between himself and Andy, played by Ray Romano. The pair’s chemistry is nothing short of spectacular. Duplass and Romano make perfect comedic partners. Thus, Michael and Andy make perfect friends.
As a result, the film truly captures the essence of friendship. The pair, who live in the same apartment complex, spend every moment possible together. And it’s not difficult to see why. It would seem that these best friends can find joy even in the worst of situations.
Michael and Andy, who both work dead-end jobs, focus their energy on the time they get to spend together. Each day, after work, the pair has a ritual of playing paddleton — their simple invented game resembling racquetball — taking a walk, and eating pizza while watching their favorite movie, “Death Punch,” which they have memorized in its entirety.
This quirky duo makes the unbelievably depressing plot absurdly entertaining. The awkward antics of Michael and Andy are undercut only by the unavoidable death that Michael faces as a result of his particular prognosis.
With a somewhat generic setting and few supporting characters, the film focuses heavily on the two main characters, making their interactions extremely important. And, for the most part, their interactions, while not necessarily exciting, carry the plot along at a very comfortable pace.
An embarrassing moment for the script supervisor exists at a pivotal scene in the film. There is a discrepancy in the amount of liquid in a cup in one of the final scenes. But this error does not detract from the gravity of the moment, and thus is more of a distraction than an actual issue.
Jokes are placed in a timely manner for most of the movie, ensuring that the depressing plot doesn’t leave the whole thing unwatchable. But because of the nature of the film, some of the jokes feel uncomfortable.
The cinematic elements of the movie add to the comedy. Several times, dramatic shots lead into simple jokes, keeping the audience on their toes.
Dark humor doesn’t quite describe this film. Instead, it’s more quirky humor despite grim circumstances. At times, it almost seems as if the movie isn’t taking itself seriously, but it remains entertaining regardless.
The comedic scenes do not, however, detract from the heartbreaking drama that ensues. Michael’s health deteriorates gradually throughout the movie. More often than not, he is lying on the couch in excruciating pain. It is emotionally taxing to see the only thing that could ever come between his friendship with Andy doing just that.
Despite the film’s focus on Duplass’s character, Romano’s does not go unnoticed. In fact, Andy is more desperate to hold onto Michael’s life than Michael himself, highlighting the emotional struggle friends and family face with the prospect of this End of Life Option, especially in California where the law has seen contentious debate in 2018.
The conflict requires the audience to reflect on their own lives and determine their course of action if they were to ever find themselves in these circumstances.
Nationally, there has been heavy debate regarding this so-called “Right to Die.” Arguments waged vary greatly, but the most convincing stance is explained by Duplass’s character: Michael states that he would prefer to die comfortably, in his own home and with his best friend, rather than suffering for months in a hospital bed only to meet the same end.
Andy seems to represent all that people find comforting. As such, it is often uncomfortable to see Andy vehemently attacking Michael’s choice. But this uneasy tension is an important aspect of the plot; Andy obviously does not want his friend to die, but eventually realizes that it is Michael’s decision, not his.
Although this emotional film may not have the invigorating plot of a mainstream blockbuster, it highlights the beauty of friendship and the importance respecting choices that are different from your own. It tackles an uncomfortable topic in way that is coherent to most audiences. And for this reason, it should be categorized as a must-watch.
“Paddleton” is a simple story of a complicated issue and is well worth the watch for anyone who can afford the boxes of tissues required to finish it.
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