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Ray Romano Shines In “Paddleton,” A Touching Portrait Of Simple Male Friendship

We all know that Ray Romano has had a long and illustrious career in comedy. From his roots as a stand up comedian to his hit sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond, not to mention his voice work in the Ice Age franchise, he’s a legend. Recently, however, he’s begun to show a more dramatic side to his talents. The Big Sick showcased that skill, while this week, he delivers his best performance to date in Paddleton, a Duplass Brothers production that hit Netflix on Friday. It’s a very nice film, with a quiet power to it, and Romano helps to really elevate it.

Michael (Mark Duplass) and Andy (Romano) are unlikely friends. Middle aged men, they’re both single, neighbors, and seem to only have each other. Their lives are dominated by simple routine. They watch kung fu movies, they eat pizza, they explain to everyone they meet that they’re not actually a couple, and they play a made up version of handball that they call paddleton. Then, as we first meet them, the former is being given a cancer diagnosis. Soon, Michael learns that what he has is in fact, a terminal illness. He insists that he and Andy keep up their routines, though that weighs on his friend. When Michael decides to end his life and they need to take a trip in order to secure the medication, Andy begins acting even more oddly. It’s clear that he’s struggling with the thought of losing his best friend, knowing that he’ll be alone once he’s gone. It all culminates in a powerful sequence at the end that really hits home what they mean to each other. Alex Lehmann directs and co-writes with Duplass, while the small supporting cast includes Kadeem Hardison, Dendrie Taylor, and more. Nathan M. Miller handled the cinematography, while the score is by Julian Wass. The aforementioned Duplass also co-produced with his brother Jay Duplass.

Romano is really quite excellent in this movie. For about half of the running time, he’s a stubborn, crabby man, but a good friend. The second half, however, elevates all of that, while also showing the cracks in his armor. He especially shines in one specific scene towards the end. The way he shows emotion, then reels it back in, well…that will break your heart. It’s truly powerful to witness. Duplass is good too, doing the sort of reliably low key work he’s been doing for years (this is a largely improvised production, representing a definite comfort zone), but Romano is really the star. What he delivers is unexpected and downright staggering.

This is a really quiet flick. The power inherent in it is only evident once it comes to an end. Initially, it’s much more of a quiet comedy, focused on the quirks of the men and especially how Romano’s Andy reacts oddly to Michael’s diagnosis. Things like the pep talk he’s planning are set up as mostly jokes, but the dramatic poignancy of them comes into focus as things move towards completion. The film sometimes can meander, despite a short running time, but the acting more than makes up for it. Though not directed by the Brothers Duplass, this is one of their productions and fits in nicely with what they’ve done previously. In fact, it stands tall as one of their better efforts.

Fans of the Duplass Brothers and especially Romano would do well to give Paddleton a look. Netflix released this one on to their streaming service yesterday, following a solid debut back in January at the Sundance Film Festival. It’s not a movie that you’re likely to shout from the mountaintops about, but it hits you a lot harder than you might initially expect. See it for Romano, if nothing else. This is the sort of work that could get him nominated for an Academy Award at some point. Give it a look and see what you think. I suspect you’ll feel like I do about it…

Be sure to check out Paddleton, now streaming on Netflix!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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