One could argue Netflix got off to a bit of a rocky start with their original films. For the first couple of years, when many people thought of their movies, they would think of stuff like their poorly received Adam Sandler comedies or critical flops like The Cloverfield Paradox.
It took them until late into 2018 to start releasing movies that got as popular as Stranger Things, such as their interactive film Black Mirror: Bandersnatch. And I’m sure you’ve all heard of and possibly have some strong opinions about Bird Box.
Having said all of that, one genre Netflix has done well with for the past few years is lesser-known indie comedy/drama movies about ordinary people. Last year, I wrote about Kodachrome, a father-son story starring Jason Sudeikis and Oscar nominee Ed Harris.
Now in 2019, we have Paddleton, a touching and funny movie about two close friends who get some bad news when one gets diagnosed with terminal cancer.
One thing that makes Paddleton stand out among other movies is that there are only two people in the main cast. First, there’s Mark Duplass (who also co-wrote the film) playing Michael, the friend who gets sick.
Then there’s Andy (Emmy-winner Ray Romano), a nervous guy who works a mundane office job and hates small talk. He’s older than Michael and lives in the apartment right above them. The two of them hang out together pretty much every night and weekend.
Part of what makes their friendship so sweet is that you know that the two of them only really have each other. Neither have any real family or any other close friends. So this, of course, makes it tougher for Andy when he finds out Michael is going to die of cancer.
At first, Michael has trouble talking about it with Andy. But when things get worse, he gets to the point where he has no choice but to have a serious discussion with him. But Andy struggles with accepting it, which leads to some powerful emotional scenes later in the film.
First and foremost, Paddleton is a character-driven story. It’s a movie all about friendship. And the two leads both give very strong performances individually while also having some great chemistry together.
A lot what makes up the movie is the interactions between Andy and Michael, just the two of them having everyday, weird conversations. Often, they present these through montages, which are done well.
The humor in Paddleton is not the kind where the writers sat down and wrote a bunch of jokes. Instead, it’s the type where the laughs come naturally from the characters and their quirkiness, which in this case feels more believable.
One thing that might surprise you is that some of the dialogue actually reminded me of Seinfeld of all things. And if it’s not clear, this is a compliment.
Screenwriters Mark Duplass and Alex Lehmann (the latter also directed the film) did an impressive job with every aspect of the script. Everything about the film from the characters to the dialogue to the plot all feels completely genuine.
A large part of how they do this comes from all the details they give to the characters. For instance, one main trait they give Andy and Michael is these games they like to play (and I’m not talking about the titular paddleton, a sport they adapted from paddleball).
They like to give each other riddles, play hangman and ask each other weird questions that make them think about odd stuff. And it’s refreshing to see a movie that will go to such great lengths with its character development.
For the most part, none of this really contributes anything to the plot. But what it does is that it makes these characters feel more real. And once again, this movie is all about the characters.
So it’s safe to say that the screenplay is the strongest aspect of Paddleton. But this isn’t to say that they didn’t put any effort into the other aspects. Director Alex Lehmann also does some good work with the film’s visual presentation.
Two elements of the film that stood out were the original score from experienced composer Julian Wass, which helped to create a peaceful tone for a lot of the film, and a more somber tone for the sadder scenes.
Then there’s the camerawork from Nathan M. Miller. He doesn’t do anything along the lines of what you saw in last year’s Academy Award-winning Netflix film Roma. But he is still able to give this movie a very pleasant look throughout the runtime.
As for negatives with the movie, as good as they are for most of the film, Romano and Duplass both each have a moment or two in the film where they struggle a little with some of the more heavy acting. They just aren’t 100 percent convincing in these moments.
But overall, Paddleton is still a pretty great movie. It’s one of Netflix’s better original films and I would say the best movie I’ve seen this year so far. However, I will say that I may be biased, since this is the kind of film I personally really like. But even considering that, I still think it’s a film with something to offer pretty much everyone.