Paddleton

Release: Friday, February 22, 2019 (Netflix)

→Netflix 

Written by: Mark Duplass; Alex Lehmann

Directed by: Alex Lehmann

It’s not often that the Duplass brothers make a heavy movie. Darting in and out of the so-called mumblecore scene and playing with time in pleasantly nostalgic trips down memory lane (Blue Jay) or lurching ahead into the future with spirited abandon and childlike naivety (Safety Not Guaranteed), they typically go for heartache rather than rip-your-heart-out. But the timeline we’re dealing with in Paddleton makes it absolutely the bitterest of sweet efforts from the guys who got away with making navel-gazers about a guy living at home and a puffy chair.

Yeah Paddleton is another slice-of-life drama (supposedly the first in another four-picture deal Duplass Brothers Productions have secured with the streaming behemoth Netflix), but then it’s also a story dealing with cancer and mortality so it’s really more like the whole damn cake we’re tucking into here — life, death and . . . haunting your friend in the afterlife, maybe? This is a more serious movie, there’s no doubt about that, but if there’s a way to find the humor in something as distressing as one’s own impending death, leave it to the Duplasses to find that way.

In Paddleton Mark Duplass plays a 40-something bachelor named Michael and he’s given a diagnosis that turns out to be terminal. As an actor Duplass is a pretty reliable commodity at this point and so it’s Ray Romano playing his upstairs neighbor Andy who’s the revelation. He might never have been better than he is in this utterly neurotic, quietly devastating role — his second consecutive dramatic persona following a supporting part in Kumail Nanjiani’s The Big Sick (2017). The two eke out a quiet, fringe existence wherein they escape the 9-5 doldrums by watching kung fu movies, eating pizza and engaging in this strange but totally fun-looking game they’ve invented called ‘paddleton’ — a hybrid of tennis, squash and basketball played off the back of a dilapidated building.

It doesn’t look exciting or rewarding but they slip into this routine like one pulls on their favorite torn Levis. There’s a comfort and security in simplicity, a notion that’s only reinforced — and with surprising profundity, too — once we’ve arrived at the crux of the movie, when Michael decides to end his life on his own terms rather than wait for the disease to land him in the hospital, hooked up to machines. Michael’s choice sets up a philosophical conundrum that Andy of course wrestles with, urging his friend to fight back. Michael doubles down, insisting this is a quality-over-quantity situation. He’d much prefer to spend his remaining time doing just what they’ve always done: pizza, kung fu, paddleton. Not necessarily in that order. Indeed there’s comfort in having a routine. No bucket-list stress, no grand speeches (well, there might be a good half-time speech delivered by Andy at some point). No plastic feelings, please.

Director Alex Lehmann previously worked with Duplass alongside Sarah Paulson in 2016’s Blue JayThe collaboration resulted in two outstanding performances and that’s been duplicated here. Romano and Duplass make for an endearing bromance that shoves the likes of Seth Rogen/Jonah Hill/James Franco and Will Ferrell/John C. Reilly to the way back seat. Paddleton is an amiable drama that toots along at about two miles an hour, features about five actors total, and physically goes almost nowhere — the narrative briefly kinks out into a brief road trip “comedy” of sorts when the pair have to procure some controversial medicine — and yet it manages to hit some profound depths along the way.

What starts out as an air of melancholy progresses to a rather stunning, emotional climax, a responsibly handled if challenging to watch dramatization of those last, ultra-heady stages of the grieving/dying process. Acceptance is a toughie, mostly because of the stepping stones you have to cross to get that peace of mind. A moment of paralyzing fear becomes the Duplass’ signature capital-A awkward scene. Yet for all the excruciating detail, Paddleton is ultimately life-affirming. These two dudes care for each other deeply. Despite being tinged with some ugliness the movie is beautiful because it makes this relationship the focus.

“Okay, so . . . if reincarnation is actually a thing . . .”

Recommendation: Two note-perfect performances elevate Paddleton above the potentially overly-sentimental, sugar-coated drama it might have otherwise been. Heartbreaking and heartwarming in equal measure, Paddleton is probably the most challenging Duplass Brothers movie currently on offer but along with the pain comes plenty of reward. A high recommendation for fans of Mark, Jay and whatever other Duplass may be lurking out there. Oh, and Ray Romano too. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 89 mins.

Quoted: “I’m the dying guy!”

“I’m the other guy!”

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Table 19

Release: Friday, March 3, 2017

[Theater]

Written by: Jay and Mark Duplass

Directed by: Jeffrey Blitz

This is awkward for me because Table 19, a “dramatic” comedy written by the inimitable Duplass brothers about being low-priority wedding guests seated at the least desirable table at the reception, belongs at a rejects table of its own. Awkward because I want to like all Duplass-related films always but now I’m faced with the prospect of hating one.

Objectively their new, jointly penned blah-medy is a real misfire. It’s directed by Jeffrey Blitz, most notable for his contributions to latter seasons of The Office, which might have something to do with Table 19 having no personality whatsoever resembling anything Duplass-y. To their credit, the filmmakers assemble quite the impressive team of funny people —  Anna Kendrick, Craig Robinson, Lisa Kudrow, Stephen Merchant, Tony Revolori, Wyatt Russell and June Squibb — and then, somewhat counterintuitively, they set about finding ways to make every one of them as unfunny as possible.

Eloise (Kendrick) was going to be the maid of honor at her “oldest” friend’s wedding but after being unceremoniously dumped via text message by Teddy (Russell), who happens to be the best man, she’s become persona non grata. She decides to attend anyway, finding her place at the dreaded back table, a table so far removed from the action “you can smell the bathroom.” Having been intimately involved in the planning of the reception, Eloise knows what being relegated to this table means. It means you are either a liability or you just suck. At being a person.

She shares this inside information with the other guests at the table, a decidedly oddball collection: There’s the Kepps (Robinson and Kudrow), a boring couple who run a diner together; Walter (Merchant), a weirdo who may or may not have just come straight from prison; Renzo (Revolori), a horny teen who can’t help but take terrible advice from his mother; and Jo (Squibb), a retired pot-smoking nanny. While none of them seem to have legitimate connections with the happy couple, only for the recently scorned does becoming a potential distraction seem like a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Table 19 skulks about the banquet hall looking for something interesting to talk about, but finds precious little. The Duplass brothers have staked their reputations on an unusual ability to create something of substance out of what at first appears to be nothing. A film shot largely in a banquet hall tends to stretch the term ‘cinematic’ but then that’s the Duplass’ forte. What their screenplay doesn’t do is take risks. There’s nothing revelatory about any of the character’s backstories and Kendrick’s chemistry with Russell is the kind of bad that we just don’t need to talk about. Plus the comedy is incessantly forced — uncertain and ineffectual at the best of times. The whole thing plays out like a father-of-the-bride toast that goes to some awkwardly inappropriate places, remains unfunny for the majority and that ultimately drags on for too long.

Recommendation: Utterly forgettable farcical comedy forgets to pack the comedy. There’s good reason you probably have not heard of Table 19; it’s the movie no one invited into their area cineplexes. (Now, if you’re wondering where my Kong review is, blame it on three consecutively sold-out screenings for the delay. I hope to have one up sometime in the next decade.)

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 87 mins.

Quoted: “Hello my god. Hi, I’m Renzo. I have achieved puberty and I am in a rock band.”

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com

Blue Jay

blue-jay-poster

Release: Friday, October 7, 2016 (limited) 

[Netflix]

Written by: Mark Duplass

Directed: Alex Lehmann

In Blue Jay, Mark Duplass and Sarah Paulson make a little adventure out of being a couple long since broken up. When the former high school sweethearts bump into each other at a grocery store in their hometown after 20 years, they spend an entire movie — the first in a four-movie deal Duplass has recently inked with Netflix — taking a stroll down memory lane.

It’s actually a wonderful conceit and who better to handle the walking and talking and thick-beard-charmery than Mark Duplass? Looking fresh off the set of a Carhartt commercial (yet well within the definition of a typical mumblecorian protagonist), he stars as a 30-something-year-old blank slate barely named Jim at the beginning of the film. Over the course of a breezy 80 minutes we will come to know more about him through his awkward-then-amazing interactions with co-star Sarah Paulson, who plays his high school girlfriend, Amanda.

The two find themselves back in their native Crestline, California for different reasons. A conversation over coffee soon reveals just how many other things have changed in their lives. But their genuine attraction to one another has clearly endured. They slip right back into roles they have long since vacated as they go about town reminiscing about their youth and “uncool-ness,” enjoying the most romantic not-date anyone has ever experienced.

Throughout we become privy to a series of revelations that intimate a shared past filled with joy but one not devoid of pain. The question looms ever larger despite (or perhaps because of) all the fun being had: what could have possibly caused such kindred spirits to drift apart?

While Duplass has a screenwriting credit, the foggy haze of memory and nostalgia is realized through a combination of improvised dialogue and intuitive performance. As is true for any low-budget indie, well-made or not, the experimental approach carries with it a significant risk of failure. Blue Jay was also shot in black-and-white on a camera originally designed for military use. This would all seem like a tick-list of indie affectations had the film shown no interest in connecting with its audience.

Blue Jay is quite a lot more than artifice. It’s a perpetually enlightening experience chiefly concerned with the way we romanticize the past, particularly past relationships. Jim and Amanda prove that reconciliation is possible if you really want it. (I guess you also have to be a little lucky, too.) I wanted for this to go on longer. Eighty minutes simply isn’t enough when you’re in the company of people who are as adorkable as Mark Duplass and Sarah Paulson.

dance-party-with-mark-duplass-and-sarah-paulson

4-0Recommendation: Bittersweet indie film is tailor-made for fans of Mark Duplass’ unique sensibilities. It’s also a great showcase for Sarah Paulson, who steps into a role I don’t think I’ve ever seen her play before. Blue Jay gives us so many different ways of dealing with the pain that inevitably comes with the break-up. In that way the movie is pretty inspiring. 

Rated: NR

Running Time: 80 mins.

Quoted: “Are you going to be the first female white rapper to open for Public Enemy?”

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Creep

Release: Tuesday, June 23, 2015

[Netflix]

Written by: Patrick Brice; Mark Duplass

Directed by: Patrick Brice

Creep is Brice’s directorial debut, pairing the writer-director with master of strange Mark Duplass of mostly independent film fame. As with his sophomore effort The Overnight the less I mumble on, the higher Creep‘s potential to surprise becomes. And if I’m not just going crazy, Brice seems to like it creepy. Both features thus far feature a substantial amount of pure, unbridled . . . weirdness. (Though The Overnight might eclipse this clearly more modestly budgeted production in that regard.)

But where The Overnight disconcerted viewers by forcing them to bear witness to a pair of thirtysomethings slowly embracing and then taking social improprieties to a whole new level, Creep has very little, if any, basis upon which one could judge socially acceptable behavior. It has this kind of detachment that sets the film distinctly away from normality. The film starts off in a car with a videographer named Aaron (Brice) headed for the rolling hills of Nowheresville, USA to interview someone for . . . something. He’s hoping his subject is a woman, since the only description of the job given is that “discretion would be appreciated.”

Using his handheld camera as the only means of connecting with us, Aaron soon seems like a saint compared to his subject, a lonely man named Josef (Duplass) who comes across as unstable from the get-go. Creep follows Aaron as he gets to know his subject over the course of a single day, and while the usual nitpicks against found footage are on display — I advise against eating while watching because the shaky cam could have an adverse effect — the device is incredibly effective. In places it’s downright chilling.

Brice may be wielding it more often than not but aside from Duplass his recording device is the real star of the film. It’s a unique conduit of information, and not simply for the obvious. The visuals put in front of us are as important as the things we cannot see — a reaction on Aaron’s part; a physical change in perspective. These help build upon Creep‘s steadily ominous and even darkly comic atmosphere. I’m more comfortable placing a stronger emphasis on the former though.

There are a few moments that reveal the inherent flaw of shooting found footage style of course, like when the camera continues rolling when the user ought to just be . . . well . . . . Let’s just say he’s got higher priorities than guiding us through a particular room at a certain point. But this is an issue easily covered up by the strong work turned in by the epitome of a tight-knit cast. It’s just Brice and Duplass in this one. Suffice it to say, Duplass will be difficult to look at the same way again after watching him take this dark turn.

So there I was at the end of the film, standing in the back of this hypothetical screening, applauding emphatically. Maybe that was me making up for my previous indiscretion for trying to leave early. But thank goodness for Brice, for showing not only his ability to make wise decisions with the style but for realizing opportunities to avoid its many pitfalls. Creep may not last long but it is enough.

Recommendation: Living up to its title spectacularly, Creep is light on runtime but dark in tone and refreshingly original. The found footage genre still has life left in it yet! Pick this one up if you’re in the mood for something chilling, and for a great performance from Mark Duplass. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 82 mins.

Quoted: “Tubby time.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com