In Alex Lehmann’s Paddleton, Mark Duplass and Ray Romano play Michael and Andy, a couple of sadsack, socially awkward, loser neighbors who have struck up a friendship based seemingly on proximity and mutual apathy. When Michael is diagnosed with terminal cancer, he enlists Andy to go on a brief road trip with him to acquire prescription medication from a sympathetic pharmacist that will allow him to kill himself peacefully. Mumbly kvetching ensues, and ultimately, after much hand wringing and some mildly comic shenanigans, Andy helps Michael with his assisted suicide. That’s it, that’s the narrative of Paddleton. It feels somehow churlish to complain about such a small, modest film; it’s by no means terrible, and has some real pleasures, including a low-key vibe and laidback, lived-in performances. The ending, in particular, is genuinely affecting. And Ray Romano does his somnambulistic Jerry Seinfeld routine, puttering around and bitching about little foibles and looking like a lump. For his part, Duplass sands off his sarcastic edge to play a fairly nice dude, jettisoning the frat boy douche bag routine from his days on The League.
Feels very late 2000s, when mumblecore-adjacent projects like Cyrus, Jeff Who Lives at Home, Humpday, and Your Sister’s Sister could still get actual theatrical distribution.
But ultimately, Paddleton is a barely-there movie; it threatens to evaporate as soon as it’s over. There’s nothing that elevates this above or beyond its hacky sitcom tropes and easy, slacker comedy. Will Michael and Andy get mistaken for a gay couple at some point, with a ‘not that there’s anything wrong with that!’ rejoinder? Will the nice, attractive older women working at the hotel be kind of quirky and then come on to one of the men out of nowhere? You bet! Michael and Andy’s character’s are shaped by routine, which could be an interesting dynamic to explore. But even that is sketched as cliches and with big, broad strokes. They eat frozen pizza for every meal and watch the same goofy kung fu movie over and over, memorizing the dialogue. The ultimate catharsis that the movie can imagine is two grown men confessing their platonic love for each other, presented here as a kind of epiphany. This isn’t how real people act, it’s a simplistic approximation that comes from television, not observed life. The film feels very late 2000s, when mumblecore-adjacent projects like Cyrus, Jeff Who Lives at Home, Humpday, and Your Sister’s Sister could still get actual theatrical distribution. Mark and brother Jay have moved their wares to television, where frankly its always probably belonged. Lehmann and co-writer Duplass don’t need to be a Cassavettes or Pialat or Haneke, but there’s something at the core of Paddleton that is simply…missing. Call it honesty, perhaps.
You can currently stream Alex Lehmann’s Paddleton on Netflix.