“Paddleton” Review: A terrific, emotional display from Mark Duplass and Ray Romano

Ray Romano starred in Paddleton along with co-star Mark Duplass. 
Photo via Wikipedia

Ray Romano starred in Paddleton along with co-star Mark Duplass. Photo via Wikipedia

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For a film written by and starring two established comedians, “Paddleton” is a terrific dramedy that shows there are more sides to lead actors Ray Romano and Mark Duplass. It provides Romano the outlet to continue his dramatic acting career after 2015’s “The Big Sick,” while Duplass continues to create interesting, excellent films after his long run on the beloved comedy show “The League” ended in 2015. What starts off incredibly slow and raw sneaks up on the viewer, captivating them with the emotional bond that Romano and Duplass’s characters share and the intense tragedy they endure.

“Paddleton” is about the relationship between two single, middle-aged men living in apartments in a small town in rural America, as Michael, played by Duplass, is diagnosed with terminal cancer and intends to end his life through euthanasia with his best friend Andy, played by Romano, supporting him all the way through.

While Romano and Duplass share top billing, it’s Ray Romano’s performance that steals the show. His career up to this point has been mainly comedic acting and stand-up, but “Paddleton” proves that there is more to him than his IMDB page would suggest. His performance is guttural and captivating, and he acts so naturally that you feel at points you are watching a documentary rather than a scripted film. His character Andy is a loyal yet closed-off person who does not deal well with change; for example, the film takes place in modern day, and yet Andy doesn’t own a cellphone. The climax of the film is where Romano truly shows off his acting skills. He is raw, emotional, and the viewer cannot help but cry with him. Romano is able to shift from excellent comedic moments to deeply sad moments effortlessly as he holds the viewers’ emotions in his hands.

While Romano was excellent, Duplass should be commended as well for his performance as both co-lead and co-writer with frequent collaborator Alex Lehmann. The script is extremely natural and real for the situation; nothing is made to seem glamorous or better than it actually is. The chemistry between Duplass and Romano makes you feel as if you’re listening in on a conversation between two guys in a bar or restaurant, and the good/happy moments make the sad/tender moments much more impactful. Duplass’ character, Michael, devolves as his disease takes over his life and body, and Duplass shows it in a very real sense. He does not sugarcoat anything and shows the horrors of dying throughout the film. His performance perfectly matches Romano’s and compliments it perfectly to create a funny, yet incredibly sad film.

One creative aspect of the film that should be noted is the cinematography work. Cinematographer Nathan Miller and director Alex Lehmann used different types of shots to guide the viewer through the film and make them feel as involved in the film as possible. During intense moments, the camera moves from a stable shot to a handheld, giving the feel of a documentary crew following around Andy and Michael. That not only makes the film feel more real, it also creates an intimacy between the characters and the viewer as you’re right in the middle of these passionate moments between these two best friends.

One critique of the film is the pacing. It’s a slow film as it is mainly conversations between two friends and not much action, however, it’s a sneaky film. It creeps up on you, and while there are no major surprises, it goes from 0 to 100 when you least expect it and leaves you with tears streaming down your face.

“Paddleton” works because its themes of close friendship and loyalty are ones everyone can relate to. While many people might not be able to relate to the specific subject of losing a friend to a terrible disease, they can understand the feelings of loss and friendship that Duplass and Romano go through. I think every viewer knows the exact person that would be the other side of this story if it were to happen to them, which only makes the ending that much more devastating.

“Paddleton” is a film where you know exactly how it will end from the beginning, and yet what occurs is so captivating you cannot help but keep watching and be emotionally shocked at the end. It’s a brutal film to watch, as you know what will happen and do not want the characters to go through the pain that you know is coming, but light-hearted, goofy moments sprinkled through the film make you forget the circumstances for brief moments. It’s a fantastic story that captivates the audience, even if it starts out slow and relatively uneventful. At a certain point, you don’t want to look away, but fear what’s coming.

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