The sophomore feature film of cinematographer turned director, Alexandre Lehmann’s “Paddleton” is brimming with bittersweet and poignant moments and deadpan conversations that carry existential philosophy, seen through the lens of pessimism. Like Blue Jay, Paddleton is a two handler, about Michael (Duplass) and his neighbour Andy (Romano), who lives above him in a shabby pea-size apartment.
Andy and Micheal have no real relationships with anyone else than themselves. The characters are never given any backstory, but Andy lacks social etiquettes, and it becomes evident when they deal with a pharmacist and a hotel owner. They live like an old married couple, aware of each other’s vices, and spending most of the time together. The depth of their platonic friendship could be realised from their made-up game called ‘Paddleton’ that involves scoring the ball in a barrel after hitting it against the wall with a tennis racket. If they are not playing, they spend time watching a Kung-Fu movie ‘Death Punch’, Michael cooking meals for both, bantering and going out to the market.
The film opens in the hospital with a nurse informing Micheal that lump in his stomach is continuously growing and needs the consultation of an oncologist. They both are taken aback by the news, and instead of confirming it directly, Andy indulges in a word-play game to confirm. It displays the defence mechanism that Andy frequently employees in the film to veil his grief and heartbreak from learning that Micheal won’t be there for long.
Andy is seen fighting to the grip of the unexpected circumstances that force him to deal with his fear and emotions while he struggles to keep the grief bottled inside. Micheal decides to end his life using doctor-prescribed drugs. As the drug is not easily available in every pharmaceutical shop, Andy and Michael take a road trip to the nearest shop that gives them an opportunity to come on terms with loss and grief. Andy’s emotional state hits rock bottom after the purchase of drugs that enforces him to lock the medicine inside a pink locker, displaying the affection for Michael and holding onto the hope.
Alex and Mark Duplass’s script is devoid of any sentimental plot proceedings or any major conflict infused inorganically to spice up the plot. The writing is mostly driven by laid back and impassive conversations splashed with humour to conceal the real emotions. The emotional subtexts are strong even in the most tragic act of the film. Mark Duplass is natural and effortless in his performance of a man trying hard not to succumb to his illness. It’s Romano’s phenomenal performance as a friend struggling to keep up with the situation that would take away his only friend.