Netflix has never had the strongest standalone original movie output. As of late they’ve released the abysmal Polar, the mediocre Velvet Buzzsaw and the solid Fyre. But they’ve never, not in their entire duration as a company, ever made a truly astounding movie. Aside from the gem that was The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, Netflix seemed doomed to create nothing more than mediocre cannon fodder. That was until they released Paddleton.
Ray Romano and Mark Duplass star as the buddy duo in what is essentially one of two Netflix movie formulas, the other being a romantic comedy that becomes a process of elimination until the two leads find their one true love (The Kissing Booth, When We First Met, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before). But the output of the “two guys head on a trip together where one character has a crippling illness” has always yielded moderately strong results for Netflix. The Fundamentals of Caring is solid testament to that.
If you remember the Ray Romano we do, then you’ll probably think of his immense yet slightly annoying charm in Everybody Loves Raymond. But for Paddleton, Romano has clearly re-invented himself. Rather than a bumbling but loveable idiot, he plays a straight drama character, one that would be suited more to quite possibly anybody else that you can think of. His performance is incredible.
He’s outstanding, stealing the spotlight from the real underdog of the movie, Mark Duplass. Duplass plays Michael Thompson, a man diagnosed with cancer, who, with his neighbour, Andy Freeman (Romano), must come to terms with the reality of his situation and the impending fate that awaits him.
Movies like this are built on one thing only: chemistry. If the cast aren’t working like a well-oiled machine then there’s simply no chance that the film will work at all. Duplass and Romano are excellent together – with a genuine feeling of connection between the two of them throughout the movie. What I appreciate most of all is the avoidance of expected cliches of the genre. Our protagonists never fall out for the sake of extending the drama, and it’s a surprisingly short film because of it. There’s a fixed storyline, and the script never deviates from that story.
What limits this movie somewhat is its direction. While not expecting artistic brilliance the likes of Kubrick would bring, it’s still a shame to see such a strong script flounder without any real directive energy. It’s your standard drama at the end of it all, elevated greatly by an outstanding performance.
Romano is incredible, really bringing the story out in its highest and lowest points. Personally moving and a well needed update to an age old mode of storytelling, Paddleton is a superb example of how a great but small cast can make or break a movie. In this case, it has in fact joined a closed group of “movies that made me cry like a baby”, and it’s even more of a surprise that it was a Netflix original.