Assisted suicide is usually a topic that generates harsh, binary responses from politicians, so the issue is usually never discussed past the politically-charged meaning of the term. However, Alexandre Lehmann’s latest film, “Paddleton,” analyzes assisted suicide within the context of friendship. The film searches for meaning amidst the ambiguity of death, and does so with a surprising amount of success.
The film, which recently made its debut at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival, was unfortunately purchased by Netflix and promptly buried under the seemingly endless amount of “Black Mirror” episodes and other monotonous Netflix “Original” television shows and films. The intimacy the film displays between the characters struggling in the face of death is undermined by the streaming environment. The story that Lehmann is painting is a touching one, so it is unfortunate that Netflix robbed the viewing audience of a theatre experience.
Although Lehmann certainly has his influence on the film, the film is hinged on the brilliant performance by lead actor/writer/producer, Mark Duplass. Duplass has an influence over a wide range of the film industry, as he worked with legendary independent-cinema director, Sean Baker as a producer of Baker’s film, “Tangerine,” and worked with Academy Award winning Hollywood director, Kathryn Bigelow as an actor in her film, “Zero Dark Thirty.” His ability is not be limited by if he is behind or in front of the camera, and, in the case of “Paddleton,” his influence on both sides leads to the success of the narrative.
The film follows Duplass’ character, Michael, in his journey from learning of his terminal illness to coping with the idea of assisted suicide. The complexities of the issue seem to melt away among the dialogue between Michael and his best friend, Andy. Andy, played by Ray Romano, struggles to cope with the idea of losing his only friend and vows to do everything he can for him until the time of Michael’s suicide.
The film is certainly reminiscent of Duplass’ mumblecore films, and “Paddleton” certainly exhibits many qualities of these films. However, the film never truly commits to the level of naturalism that he previous work, and much of the genre, beautifully illustrates. As the genre hinges on the consistent, fast-paced dialogue, the film does suffer to retain its tone amongst the uncertainty of death.
That said, of the most heartbreaking scenes of the year, and maybe even last year, takes places at the climax of the film. The scene is one of the best acted scenes in recent memory, and the minimalistic directorial style allows for each of the actors to perfectly fit their roles. Such a scene deserves to be recognized, and totally validates some of the film’s weaker aspects. If this film had not been purchased by Netflix, this scene would be the current topic of film writers across the country.
The simple, positive nature of the film is certainly a refresher after the dreadful awards season. The authenticity of Lehmann’s film is poignant, and it impossible to simply overlook. The film demands your attention throughout its runtime, and rewards you with the concluding performances that Duplass and Romano will certainly be overlooked for this coming year.