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The 400-Word Review: Paddleton

The Ray Romano/Mark Duplass dramedy is heartbreaking, but absolutely worth watching.

Photo by Patrick Wymore / Netflix

If you want to make audiences scared, you can make a movie about a killer invading a home. If you want to make audiences laugh, you can make a movie about some buffoons getting into slapstick mayhem.

And if you want to make audiences sad, you can make a movie about its main character dying.

In all of these cases, the worthiness of the picture is determined not by the amount of emotion it evokes. Gasps, laughter or tears are reliably mined. It’s the worthiness of the story around those feelings that matters. You’ve made us feel something; was it worth it?

In the case of “Paddleton,” a quiet dramedy about friendship and mortality, it is. The experience is worth the depression.

Michael (Mark Duplass) and Andy (Ray Romano) are sad-sack neighbors who have eased their way into an intimate friendship. They share an affinity for poorly dubbed kung fu pictures, which they watch over homemade pizza. They trek out to an abandoned drive-in for rounds of Paddleton, a racquetball-esque sport of their own invention. Each being utterly inept where romance is concerned, they do a fine job of filling one another’s hours.

Michael is diagnosed with terminal cancer and leans on Andy to get through the process. The request is natural, but it’s a voyage into completely foreign territory; Michael and Andy don’t communicate all that well to begin with and don’t have a vocabulary for big issues.

Co-written by Duplass, with Alex Lehmann (who also directs), “Paddleton” is very much in the signature Duplass style: a lot of free-roaming conversation and wandering cameras. It can be a method that wears thin; it’s always 90% adornment and 10% plot, which can challenge the attention span. Here, though, I think it works quite well; there’s plenty to read in “Paddleton” about the mundanity of life-and-death developments.

Some will find that the process of understanding that’s developed as a result of Michael’s march towards death a cruel irony — that the best of friends need terminal cancer to learn how to talk to one another. I saw it, however, as a moving and challenging investigation into the nature of friendship. In “Paddleton,” and (hopefully) in life, deep bonds can form without many words — and endure, and strengthen, in the face of incredible trials. It’s a worthy reminder.

Enough so that the incredibly sad subject matter becomes more than worth facing.

My Rating: 8/10

"Paddleton" will premiere on Netflix on Friday, February 22.

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