Ray Romano and Mark Duplass pair up for an unsatisfying buddy comedy
Ray Romano and Mark Duplass in “Paddleton”
There’s not a lot going on with Michael and Andy, the two central characters played by Mark Duplass and Ray Romano in Netflix’s latest release “Paddleton.” They’re both white men somewhere north of 40, living on their own—neighbors who share an unlikely friendship centered around homemade pizza, kung-fu movies, and Paddleton, a made-up game that consists of paddling a ball off a wall in hopes of it ricocheting into a trash can.
When Michael, the younger, more affable of the pair, receives a terminal cancer diagnosis, he opts to end his life on his own terms. The duo embarks on a surprisingly emotional journey when Michael recruits Andy to aide in his final wish by taking a road trip to secure the medication that will allow Michael to self-exit.
Unfortunately, with the exception of a few moving moments, there isn’t much going on with “Paddleton” either. Directed by Alex Lehmann, who previously directed Mark Duplass in the far superior “Blue Jay,” the film—with brother-collaborator Jay Duplass as executive producer—bears all the hallmarks of what we’ve come to expect from a Duplass Brothers production: emotionally stilted men, stumbling through the minefield of adulthood and relationships, oftentimes to painfully all-to-real effect (albeit comedically so).
From a script written by Duplass and Lehmann, “Paddleton” frequently succeeds in depicting the goofy awkwardness of these isolated men. Both live alone. Both work the nine-to-five grind at their run-of-the-mill day jobs. This perfunctory loneliness becomes the binding agent between two men who, out of fear and anxiety, have allowed their best selves to pass them by. Michael and Andy are simpatico because they understand the value of meeting new people, yet dread letting anyone know them for fear of seeing their shortcomings. It all has the potential to be quite moving, like a “Fault in Our Stars” for the “Sideways” crowd.
“Paddleton” frequently suffers from the aimlessness that often plagues most films from the “mumblecore” genre—a style of loosely-made and even more loosely-acted acted film born out of the rise of digital filmmaking in the early aughts. And while “Paddleton,” and Duplass to a greater extent, tries to distance itself from that category, it feels like the natural progression of a genre born out of a DIY aesthetic that cared more about getting the authenticity on screen than the dramatic impact.
Shot in the loose, handheld style all too common in these kinds of films, “Paddleton” frequently feels shaggy and overly lived-in. While Romano is delightfully cranky as the antisocial Andy, and Duplass does what he does so well as the innocent, wide-eyed optimist, “Paddleton” feels more like a loosely-drawn character sketch than a fully-formed idea—like a collection of workshopped scenes between two actors instead of a satisfying work of cinema.