Director: Alex Lehmann
Starring: Mark Duplass, Ray Romano
Release Date: February 22, 2019 (Netflix)
Tackling subjects no one wants to talk about, Paddleton is unlike any bromance you’ve ever seen.
Alex Lehmann’s second film as a director, Paddleton is also his second time collaborating with writer/actor Mark Duplass. The first being small budget romance movie Blue Jay in 2016 which Duplass wrote and Lehmann directed. Both Blue Jay and Paddleton were financed by streaming service giant Netflix. In Paddleton the two collaborated in writing the screenplay, and then resumed their previous roles as actor and director in production.
Michael (Mark Duplass) and Andy (Ray Romano) are single middle-aged men who live next to each other in a small apartment complex. They live simple lives, both go to their 9 to 5’s and come home and just chill after work. The friendship is simple but intimate — they spend their off time watching old Japanese Kung-Fu movies and eating frozen pizza. This drastically changes when Michael is diagnosed with terminal cancer. Not wanting to spend his final days hooked to life-support machines, Michael decides to get a prescription that will allow him to take his own life at a time of his choosing. As he puts it “I just wants to eat some pizza, watch some movies and play some Paddleton.”
They spend their weekends playing a sport they made up called Paddleton. It’s a cross between racquetball and golf. The goal of the game is to hit a ball against a wall and for it to bounce back and land in a barrel. Their creation of this game oddly highlights the human element of the film. Everyone can relate to playing made up games with your best friend growing up.
We see both men struggle to put their feelings into words and handle the difficult situation of death and letting go. Faced with the thought of losing his best friend, Andy begins to care for Michael in an almost motherly way as he tries to take control of an uncontrollable situation. He insists on paying for things for Michael and holding onto his life-ending medication so he can attempt to delay the inevitable. This puts strain on the relationship and the two are forced to have a dialogue that they’ve never had before.
Pushing the male platonic friendship into unknown territory, we witness how much they really care about each other, really giving “I love you, bro” a new meaning. They know each other better than anyone else in their lives. The proximity of their apartments is so close that they might as well live together as they can hear each other through the vents. We see just how unique their friendship is in a bar scene in which they re-enact scenes from their favorite Kung-fu movie DEATH PUNCH (A fake movie made for the film). With no one else having any clue about what they’re doing, we feel how lucky they are to have each other.
Male friendship is normally seen as somewhat of a joke on screen. Previous attempts at this relationship have had some funny moments, but the characters never get too close because that would be gay, right? Kind of like when one frat bro complements his friend’s outfit but quickly follows up with a no homo to let the world know that he is, in fact, not a homosexual. Keenly aware of this stigma, writer and star Mark Duplass pokes fun at this idea a time or two as the two friends are regularly mistaken for being gay.
By having the two lonely friends share simple, ordinary lives, Alex Lehmann and Mark Duplass capture what a real friendship looks like, one that is normally ignored in other bromance movies. They aren’t painted as broad jock bros who love sports, beer and boobs. They share a bond over a sport that they created and a movie they love that no one else has seen. These are real people with real personality and it’s refreshing to see this type of relationship portrayed so accurately.
Netflix is an absolute powerhouse. Seemingly every day there’s new original content up from movies, shows, comedy specials. In the scope of the film industry, its ability to give small budget, meaningful films a platform in a world that only wants to see superheroes and Disney stars on the big screen is incredibly important. Netflix can target a wide audience that a film like Paddleton otherwise wouldn’t have the means to do so. With no plans of slowing down anytime soon, Netflix has a chokehold on the market that has some Hollywood bigwigs like Steven Spielberg shaking in their boots.