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In 'Paddleton,' The Buddy Comedy Gets Serious

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We've seen this movie before - two men hang out over a long weekend, hijinks ensue, and when the dust settles, they realize they'll always have each other's backs. It's a classic bromance. But what about when those friendships are put to a real test? NPR's Eliza Dennis tells us about a new Netflix film that considers that relationship.

ELIZA DENNIS, BYLINE: The movie is called "Paddleton," which is also the name of a game the two main characters, Michael and Andy, have made up. They bounce a ball off a wall with rackets trying to get it into a trash can...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "PADDLETON")

MARK DUPLASS: (As Michael) Wait. No. No. I got it. I got it.

DENNIS: ...A simple game in which writer-director Alex Lehmann sees a deeper meaning.

ALEX LEHMANN: Every now and then and the ball is going to hit this weird angle on the medal and - bing - it's just going to go flying off in some random direction. And now you're running your butt off, you know, trying to catch up to the ball. You're out of breath. I mean, if that's not a metaphor for life, I don't know what is.

DENNIS: The random direction in the lives of Michael and Andy comes when Michael, played by Mark Duplass, receives a diagnosis of stomach cancer. Instead of tubes and hospital stays, he decides he wants to take his own life. And he enlists his Paddleton partner Andy - Ray Romano - to help him get medication to do it. Alex Lehmann says his intent wasn't to be depressing.

LEHMANN: It was really important for us to not just make people sit through 90 minutes of misery.

DENNIS: There is a sweetness to this film. Actor and co-writer Mark Duplass agrees.

DUPLASS: I think the core of this movie for me was really all about showing a "When Harry Met Sally" between two platonic male friends.

DENNIS: There's nothing extraordinary about these platonic lovers.

DUPLASS: They have dead-end jobs. Their apartments are crappy. They're not particularly witty or eloquent or attractive.

DENNIS: It's the mundane that binds them together, like making pizza, watching Kung Fu movies and, of course, playing Paddleton along with other long-running games like the hangman word game on a green sweatshirt that Andy made for Michael, a puzzle he continuously tries and fails to solve.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "PADDLETON")

DUPLASS: (As Michael) I think it's fatty pork.

RAY ROMANO: (As Andy) It's not fatty pork. I made the shirt.

DUPLASS: (As Michael) You made it about three years ago. You still remember what it is?

ROMANO: (As Andy) It was a year and a half ago. And if it was fatty pork, there'd be two Ts. There'd be another T right there.

DENNIS: Working on that puzzle is one of the friends' routines, one that they lean on as they process Michael's grim prognosis. Again, here's Alex Lehmann.

LEHMANN: We didn't want to make a bucket list movie where all of a sudden they needed to do all these things to give their life meaning.

DENNIS: Unlike other buddy and bromance films, we don't see Michael and Andy becoming friends, but like those films, they do go on an adventure. In this case, it's a six-hour road trip to pick up lethal medication that will end Michael's life. And here's where the only tension of the whole film unfolds. Andy, who has seemed so supportive of his friend's decision, ends up buying a toy combination safe and locks the pills away. But he quickly gets up the code.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "PADDLETON")

ROMANO: (As Andy) One, two, three, four.

DUPLASS: (As Michael) That's not the code.

ROMANO: (As Andy) Yeah.

DUPLASS: (As Michael) The code is one, two, three, four?

ROMANO: (As Andy) See? You're not that smart.

DENNIS: Andy and Michael return to their routine with a few changes. As Michael visibly deteriorates, he's less able to keep up the banter, and Andy has to start accepting that he will soon be alone. Writer-director Alex Lehmann says this is the essence of the story.

LEHMANN: When you truly love someone, you want to do anything you can to help them. You'll do anything for them and even, you know, at the cost of what you want.

DENNIS: And it's in those day-to-day moments of friendship and love that "Paddleton" makes its quiet statement. Eliza Dennis, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.