The story of two neighbours and their journey through the closed-off world of masculinity, Paddleton is at once touching and droll in its deconstruction of male relationships.
While films like Fight Club and The Big Lebowski—as even better-crafted exemplars of the theme compared to most—hold paragons of manhood sacrosanct in their own ways, this production, courtesy of the Duplass Brothers, slowly breaks down the stoic barriers that block legitimate friendships between men through a plodding but methodically plotted narrative.
Michael (Mark Duplass) and Andy (Ray Romano, in what must be his hands-down best role of all time) are neighbours—they watch kung fu movies, make oven pizzas and play a game of their own design called Paddleton; but, at the film’s start, the two middle-aged bachelors can only seem to refer to each other as a product of their homes’ proximity. Within the film’s first act, Michael tells Andy he has terminal cancer, and that he plans to euthanize himself before the pain really begins to kick in.
He also tells Andy, his only point of human contact in the film, that he wants him there when he does it. Small cracks begin to appear in Andy’s veneer, and as the film continues the underlying friendship the pair has begins to show.
Both Duplass and Romano give phenomenal performances and play off each other with deftness. They alternate between bickering buddies whose only common ground is their mutual dude stuff, and sobbing man-children who are just finally learning what emotions are at 40, in the face of death.
It’s heavy, and doesn’t cast men’s inability to express their emotions as valorous—rather, it’s sympathetic. There’s really only one female role in the movie (so it manages to fail the Bechdel Test by default) but from a 2019 standpoint, Paddleton is an important film for a lot of men to see, if only so they can begin to show weakness and learn to express themselves in more productive ways.
It’s also pretty funny in an awfully cringey way. Watching two awkward 40-year-old men try to interact with the world around them shouldn’t be amusing, but when every minor social interaction gets turned into a huge ordeal it’s kind of hard not to laugh.
For instance, early on, Andy begins to gripe that the new hire at his ill-defined office job has begun trying to small-talk with him—it’s a huge affront, and Romano’s uncharacteristically nuanced performance carries the tidbit of social horror off seamlessly.
It’s not an enjoyable watch, really—it’s sad and even when the movie is funny, it elicits laughter only as a defence mechanism. That said, it’s a thoughtful and rewarding way to spend two hours.
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