Past the Popcorn provides South King Media with exclusive reviews of Theatrical and Home Video entertainment. We aim to dig just a little deeper than the surface of what we watch.

This ultra-lowkey Netflix-original drama starts off with the ultimate bad news: Michael has been diagnosed with cancer, and the tumor is inoperable. His upstairs neighbor and best bro Andy has a harder time with the news than Michael… and, since they live in a “right to die” state, Michael ups the ante by asking Andy to be the one to assist him when the time comes.

Down-er! Well, yes.

On the one hand, it’s tough to recommend such an underplayed slice-of-death flick. It’s not Bucket List, where aging A-listers get to ham their way through a bunch of melodrama. Instead, we get middle-aged mensches quirking  slowly through a quasi-road-trip scenario. And these are terribly ordinary bachelor nerds who love take-and-bake pizza, obscure martial arts films they’ve already seen dozens of times, and their own invented game, Paddleton, which is about as exciting to talk about as it is to watch played… which is to say, not very. So I won’t bore you with more details.

On the other hand, I do think that this is the right tone to take with films that examine the realities of end-of-life issues. As with the Sally Field vehicle Two Weeks from a decade ago, which took a hard look at in-home hospice care for terminal cancer, Paddleton closely–and realistically–examines the issues connected to “assisted suicide.” So this is kind of the matching bookend.

You may have noticed that I used quotes around both names for Michael’s choice in Paddleton. That’s because I have a lot of ambivalence about the issue myself, having been at my own wife’s side when she passed away. We also live in a “right to die” state, and while Jenn did not choose that option during her hospice care, it was something we talked through pretty thoroughly. Since death comes to us all eventually, and earlier than we’d like for a great many of us, it’s worthwhile seeing the options portrayed in a context that’s a little less threatening than real-time.

What you will see in Paddleton is what it looks like to be present with a dying loved one when both of you are completely aware of what’s going on, and why. And watching Paddleton might help you decide whether you want to try doing that for a loved one (and not everyone could!) or whether you want to ask a loved one to do that for you (and not everyone would!).

Kudos to Ray Romano and Mark Duplass (as Andy and Michael, respectively) for investing their lives in this story. It can’t have been an easy one to portray.

Paddleton is available with your Netflix subscription.

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