Paddleton (2019)

Director: Alexandre Lehmann

Writers: Mark Duplass, Alexandre Lehmann

Starring: Mark Duplass, Ray Romero, Kadeem Hardison, Dendrie Taylor,

Cert: 15

Mark Duplass and Ray Romero offer a double-whammy of stellar performances in this year's brilliantly poignant coming-of-middle age comedy-drama Paddleton. Affectionately named after the pair's self-made racket game, this film, written by Duplass along with Alexandre Lehmann is the equally warming and devastating story of friendship at the time in someone's life when it means the most.

The film opens not with the establishment of the friendship between Duplass's Michael and Romero's Andy, but instead with the words of a doctor diagnosing Michael with cancer. Immediately it is clear that this story is one with considerable weight. Soon after, Michael asks Andy to help him end his life on his terms through the use of a medication regime. It is following this that we begin to understand the extent of the bond between the two men, and how far friendship at whatever stage in life can influence us to help others. Both on a road and on the sofa we learn more about each of the two men and what drove them together and each attempt to incorporate this terrible news into their own lives.

Despite the upsetting nature of the film, Paddleton still manages to retain a glorious sense of humour, with its dry quirkiness acting as the perfectly measured antidote to the film's more sombre themes. A superb script delivered exquisitely by the two leads is largely to thank for this film's comedic strength, and while it (rightly) won't summon belly-laughs, its inspiring glass-half-full approach to this particularly topic is determined to conjure a warm smile from anyone who views it.

Duplass offers a superb performance as Michael, a man quietly but courageously carrying his recent diagnosis of cancer. Diagnosis acceptance is a theme often covered by other similar dramas, but Paddleton decides not to spend too much time following Michael as he comes to terms with this news, instead offering a character who has quickly accepted his fate and is pragmatic in his response. Instead, there is almost a role reversal, as Michael himself attempts to support his friend through this difficult time, often being the more rational and more emotionally resilient of the pair. In contrast we have the performance from Romero, whose conflicted Andy is obviously struggling with the idea of not only losing his best friend but helping to orchestrate his passing. It is a remarkably subtle but layered performance, as his socially awkward but fiercely loyal character desperately tries to reciprocate the support offered by his friend in the only way he knows how, culminating in a staggering dual display of strength and devastation.

It is a duo of superbly delicate but powerful performances, but the whole still remains greater than the sum of its parts. Paddleton's success lives in the space between these two men, both in lines they speak and in the moments of silence they share. It is a unique friendship, not reliant on a shared history but founded simply on proximity and a shared love for kung-fu movies. The chemistry between the two is beautiful, and more affecting than that found in many romantic-comedies, making the film's conclusion all the more meaningful. Is it a powerful but tender tale of friendship, and the incredible sacrifices that can be made for those that we love.

In one line: This quiet and tender drama illustrates the perfect blend of tragedy and comedy, and contrasts one of life's most destructive facets with one of its most powerful; namely, the connection between two friends.

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