By Subhash K. Jha
Film: Paddleton; Starring: Ray Romano, Mark Duplass; Directed by Alex Lehmann; Rating: **** (4 stars)
This masterly meditation on mortality is a lot of things at the same time. But the one thing that it avoids being is over-sentimental, let alone schmaltzy, as two lifelong buddies, neighbours who are far more comfortable sharing silences pizzas and campy kungfu films than the stuff that friends do in onscreen bromances, realise that one of them has to go.
Netflix’s new offering is a silent stunner because it doesn’t try to stun. It is a stinging indictment of buddy flicks .The genre is turned on its head as the friends come to terms with the looming reality of mortality. One of them Michael (Mark Duplass) is going to die.
My immediate concern after the opening (where a female doctor breaks the news in a scene so casual it seemed written on the spot) was not for Michael but his friend Andy (Ray Romano). What is he going to do after Michael is gone? Neither of the two friends says much about what will happen, or what has happened before. But they mean the world to each other. And no, they aren’t gay.
I don’t think they are much into conversations. And the only reason why they are now talking more than usual is because we, the audience, are around.
When was the last time you saw a film about friendship and dying where soaring background music andA roaring drama were not a staple? In Paddleton, the conversations between the two friends are so unfiltered and unedited, I felt I was eavesdropping.
Michael and Andy have reached that stage of their bonding where words just come in the way. Just hanging out together, not making an effort at conversation is all they need to do. There is just one sequence of confession of feelings for one friend from another in the entire film and it comes at at a time when little can be done about it.
For those who think it’s never too late to express one’s feelings Paddleton is an eye-opener. It’s always too late to express love. Words can never capture the essence of an imperishable relationship. Both the primary actors are beyond the definitions of actable brilliancy. Romano and Duplass live every momentA of the death that stalks them from the moment we join them on screen.
“I am the guy who is dying,” Michael reminds Andy as the latter tries keep the euthanasic medicines away from him.
“I am the other guy,” Andy shouts back in a rare display of public outburst.
To call Paddleton a celebration of dying would be endorsing the macabre. This matter-of-fact head-on-the-shoulder tearless (almost) weepie walks that thin strong line between life and death allowing the latter to finally win, but only by default.
The film never stops teasing death. In one one of the most tantalising moments just when Michael is assisted in his death by Andy Michael wonders if he can connect with his friend from the other world, if there is such a provision. I was laughing and crying at the same time.
Sometimes losing the one you love the most, becomes a process of reevaluating your life and counting the blessings. Paddleton makes us think about life and death and friendship and loyalty and loneliness and euthanasia without getting breathless. It is a film of remarkable restrain during a time of unmitigated tragedy. It isn’t afraid to display emotions. But it isn’t asking us to cry about death either.
(Subhash K. Jha can be reached at [email protected])