Fifteen years ago, during the Nielsen-ratings heyday of Everybody Loves Raymond, if you’d told me that there was a real actor trapped inside of Ray Romano dying to get out, I would have laughed. Well, the joke’s on me. Between The Big Sick and the wonderful new Netflix dramedy Paddleton, Romano has proved to be not just a real actor, but a remarkably subtle one as well.
Romano plays Andy, a hangdog loner whose only friend in the world is his downstairs neighbor Michael (Mark Duplass, also terrific). These two introverts spend all of their free time together parked on Michael’s threadbare sofa eating frozen pizza, watching kung fu movies, and swapping bone-dry banter. Once in a while, they’ll venture outside to play a self-invented riff on racquetball called Paddleton. In other words, they’re basically an old married couple. And just like in marriage, their bond is through sickness and health — something that’s put to the test when Michael is diagnosed with terminal cancer.
To say that this modest little film traces the fleeting joys and deeper, sadder trials of their friendship after Michael decides to take his own life rather than go out suffering makes it sound either trite or hopelessly depressing. It’s neither. Thanks to two pitch-perfect performances, Paddleton is bittersweet and poignant beyond words. A–