Paddleton is a surprisingly affecting, lovely little comedy drama starring Ray Romano and Mark Duplass as two middle-aged neighbours who have become best friends, sharing a love of pizza, jigsaws and badly dubbed kung-fu movies. They are outsiders, a sense cleverly reinforced as they repeatedly play a made-up game of paddleton at an abandoned drive-in. The decaying ghosts of better days that lingers in the faded paint of the facades mirroring their own greying stubble and lined faces. Underachievers, seemingly neither of them having friends outside of each other, nor family to speak of, and stuck with mundane and unfulfilling jobs, the world has passed them by but they seem fine with it. There is a lovely and convincing routine in their evenings eating pizza and watching movies, it feels real.
The film begins soberly enough (considering its billed as a comedy) with Michael (Duplass) diagnosed with cancer. After some tests confirm the prognosis is bad, Michael decides that rather than suffer, he wants to take control of his situation and end his life on his own terms. Andy (Romano) is conflicted by this, he loves his friend and wants to support him, but he’s clearly terrified at losing his only friend and being left alone. So no, this clearly isn’t a belly-laugh comedy.
What it is, though, is a tender and well-directed story with two really good central performances- Romano makes quite an impression, as I’m more familiar with his Everybody Loves Raymond sitcom hi-jinks from years ago, and his acting chops here really surprise- it’s really fine work. I watched a Louis Theroux documentary series several months ago about assisted suicides in America which was deeply involving and upsetting, which only intensified the drama and reality of this film. I think it raised this film to some other level really, being aware of the tragic real-world behind it.
So, this is a wonderful little film, quite affecting and emotional with two great performances. Considering the really dark subject matter, it was very enjoyable and something of a surprise treat- I think Netflix would be wise to pursue this kind of low-key American drama film-making rather than all the blockbuster stuff. Paddleton is billed, yes, as a comedy drama and it does work as such (there is some humour amongst the sadness and tenderness) but it also serves as a focus, I think, for some very real issues.