Cancer is a subject that ought to be dealt with delicately, and there are plenty of films that do just that; yet there are many issues surrounding the disease that the medium often fails to address. It’s a void this indie release hopes to fill, and manages to do so in the gentlest of ways.
Although neither will acknowledge nor admit to it, neighbours Michael (Mark Duplass) and Andy (Ray Romano) are close friends who spend an inordinate amount of time together. When not at work, they will spend their days hitting tennis balls against the wall of a dilapidated drive-in; at night, Andy will leave the comfort of his upstairs flat to join Michael for dinner, during which time they’ll often watch their favourite kung-fu movie.
The greatest challenge the pair’s routine lifestyle is Michael’s terminal cancer diagnosis, which will see him pass away in the next couple of years. Not wanting to suffer a slow, agonising death, Michael decides that he wants to die with dignity and euthanise himself with medication. To fulfil this wish, Michael and Andy must travel to a pharmacy in Solvarg, California, so chosen because it is within driving distance of their own home.
Paddleton was initially shown at the Sundance Film Festival earlier in the year, before earning a wide-release courtesy of the streaming service Netflix. First impressions of the film would have one believe that it is an archetypal Sundance release, characterised by a low budget and quirky, subdued humour, with little else to offer. On closer inspection, though, one can see that Paddleton is a touching picture that deftly tackles a very serious issue.
Michael’s desire to end his own life, with the support of Andy, is the kind of conflict that is bound to foster interesting, philosophical conversations between individuals, a la the Red Pill/Blue Pill argument brought about by The Matrix. There will be some who argue that Michael and Andy’s actions are morally wrong, others who contend that they are ethical, and other stills who might wonder if they themselves could commit such a deed.
Whatever one’s thoughts may be on the actions of Michael and Andy, it cannot be denied that the film’s climax, which sees the former come to his final decision, is nothing short of hypnotising. Although this moment is difficult and heart-wrenching to witness, it’s also profoundly gripping, keeping the viewer glued to the screen throughout, and leaves such an impression that one cannot help but reflect on it in the days and weeks afterward.
Enriching Paddleton further are the sublime dramatic performances from the two leads, who are better recognised for their comedic roles. Duplass – who also co-wrote the film with director Alex Lehmann – acts solidly as a man coming to terms with, and then accepting, his fate; Romano, meanwhile, proves that his award-worthy turn in The Big Sick wasn’t a fluke, for he is just as convincing and outstanding in the part of Andy.
Paddleton is as much a charming story about adult friendship as it is about cancer. Thanks to the efforts of Duplass and Romano, the picture is able to handle an otherwise confronting subject with sweetness, humour and grace, and provoke discussions with viewers long after the film has ended.