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'Paddleton' portrays realistic platonic romance in the face of loss

film review

"Paddleton" follows two friends as they confront the fact that one of them is dying.
"Paddleton" follows two friends as they confront the fact that one of them is dying.

Movies about friendship are a commonplace in the film world. Yet, many times, these films ignore the platonic relationships between men, instead replacing them with hyperbolic or unrealistic versions. 

Recognizing this trend, “Paddleton,” written by Alex Lehmann and Mark Duplass, is a comedy that tackles the controversial and taboo topic of assisted suicide through the lens of this platonic romance. The film stars Ray Romano as Andy and Duplass as Michael, a pair of archetypal loners and neighbors forming an unexpected friendship, until Duplass’s character is diagnosed with terminal cancer. Instead of spending the last few months suffering in unendurable pain, Michael chooses to die on his own terms with prescribed medications. He asks his neighbor and best friend to support him through the process by going to pick up the medications with him and even being by his side until the very end. 

Although assisted suicide plays a key role in the film, the true focus of the film, as Mark Duplass stated in a recent interview, is a “truly intimate male friendship,” different from the caricature of bromances he had seen in other films. This unlikely relationship between two neighbors is based on their shared love of kung fu (particularly with Lehmann’s ‘70s rendition titled “Death Punch”), frozen pizzas and a made-up game called Paddleton, a game without winners and built on collaboration. They spend their weeknights together in Michael’s ordinary apartment, as if humorously alluding to the overdrawn and unfeasible settings of popular sitcoms.

Continuing this key concept of an unlikely friendship, portions of the movie were filmed in Solvang, California, a town known for its Danish-style architecture and extensive wineries. In a sense, the location choice seems to mirror the unique characters themselves: a city outside the norms within the state of California. What makes Andy and Michael feel so much less alone with their quirky characteristics is the bond they form. 

The main struggle for these characters is letting go, both of life and of people. The process of letting go is often portrayed in humorous ways, embodying the emotional rollercoaster of losing a friend, particularly one who has become like a family member. Lehmann and Duplass are able to strike a perfect balance between comedy and tragedy in order to realistically depict the internal battle of both characters, particularly Andy. The comedic aspects of Ray Romano’s character, Andy, come out as defense mechanisms derived from the immense grief he feels over the loss of his best friend and companion. In fact, hit by the reality of the situation, Andy attempts to steal Michael’s medications and hide them in a pink children’s safe, running away from Michael in a Solvang hotel lobby. He cannot reconcile with the loss of someone who has taken on such a huge role in his life. 

To keep this struggle organic and free of restrictions, both Lehmann and Duplass decided to write the script as an outline, allowing for the lead characters to improvise lines in natural ways. Through this, Ray Romano’s character is able to fully express the conflict between supporting his friend and not wanting him to die. 

And nothing about their relationship and their personal conflicts is romanticized. The characters seem satisfied and fulfilled through their seemingly ordinary and unchanging lifestyle. Until the very end, the pair is unwilling to express authentic emotions, simply referring to each other as only neighbors. 

Throughout the film, Andy works on writing the perfect football halftime speech, one he claims he will be able to sell to other coaches. All the while, Michael is attempting to solve a hangman game on a shirt that Andy had given him as a gift. From his apartment, Michael can hear Andy practicing his speech, fine-tuning and refining each line. The speech itself acts as a vehicle for Andy to express the emotions and love he has for Michael that are left verbally unstated until the end. And Michael’s puzzle, being ultimately unsolvable, becomes a metaphorical way of expressing the unavoidable. Andy is able to realize that there is no halftime speech to fix death or any puzzle to cheat the inevitable. But, through these things, he is able to express his love for his friend. 

“We’re going to lose this game," Andy exclaims. "But so what? I’m proud of you."


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