How do you make a movie about assisted suicide good? As a practicing Catholic, I would first and foremost say that you should not make such a motion picture. However, let us say for you-know-what-and-giggles that I did not believe in the sanctity of all life, from conception to natural death, which is the stance of the Church. Is the idea of somebody diagnosed with terminal cancer truly comedic fodder? While Paddleton (2019) is arguably more dramatic than funny, how else do you fill an hour and a half?
So, how does Paddleton go from somebody hearing that they are going to die of cancer to prematurely ending his life? That somebody is Michael (Mark Duplass), and we start with him and his best friend Andy (Ray Romano) in the doctor’s office receiving the bad news. Actually, he is not told right away that he is going to die. That comes shortly thereafter when he gots a call from a specialist that there is nothing they can do to save his life. Apparently, Michael lives in a state where people who receive such dire results are given the option of self murder. When Michael finally reveals his terminal diagnosis to Andy, his best friend does not quite know how to take this revelation. His life seems to basically revolve around hanging out with Michael. They play the title game together, which is basically racquetball with the added twist of trying to get the ball to land in a barrel and they play it at an abandoned drive-in movie theater. After their matches, they go back to Michael’s place (which is conveniently right below Andy’s apartment), Michael makes a pizza, and they watch kung-fu movies. And then Michael tells Andy that he wants to die before the disease can take its course. He cites the long hospital stays and other forms of suffering that go along with the late stages of cancer as the reason for opting for medically induced suicide. Because the script says so, none of the pharmacies nearby carry the necessary drugs. Thus they undertake a six hour road trip to a town with a Danish theme, for some reason. Even though Andy has said that he would journey with Michael until the end, he has trouble accepting it. Thus when they finally obtain the prescription, he purchases a mini-safe and locks the death pills in it. Yet, when they return home, Andy relinquishes the lockbox and gives Michael the combination. He does so because he wants to “help” his friend. After staying by him as they played less paddleton, Michael started sleeping through kung-fu movies, and Michael getting sicker, Michael finally makes the decision to die. They go through all the instructions, Michael gives Andy some last minute instructions on his last wishes, and Michael passes away in his bed with Andy next to him. A little while later, the film ends with a single mother and son moving into Michael’s old apartment.
I have many issues with Paddleton, and not all of them relate to my Faith. Being a Catholic, though, actually had me watching until the end even though it tells you what is going to happen early on in its run time. Because they bought the suicide pills, I kept hoping that Michael would realize how precious every second of life we are given is and not go through with his original decision. Getting to the end was not easy, however. For one thing, somebody having terminal cancer is a personal matter for me, and though Andy is not the one with it, he reminded me a bit too much of the person I knew with it. This is a weighty matter, and yet the story is a simple one: guy is told he is going to die and decides to end his life before the disease can take him. The rest is an understandable treatment of coming to terms with that idea. I suppose you can say that there is a sense of realism to the film with the way the two main characters interacted with each other. It plays like they ad-libbed all their lines. At times, this works, but at others it feels directionless.
Unsurprisingly, my main criticism of Paddleton is the subject on which it focuses. The Catholic Church is clear about not advocating suicide, no matter the circumstances. There is a quote from Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI that I feel relates to main idea: “The world offers you comfort. But you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness.” Now, words like “comfort” and “greatness” might not seem like they fit with this movie. However, I would argue that Michael’s decision was all about making his life more comfortable. Yes, being hooked up to a slew of medical monitoring machines is not a lot of fun. What prolonging your life does is allow for the potential of a miracle, something that Andy mentions early on and Michael dismisses it off hand. I get it, when you are facing a terminal cancer diagnosis, it is easy to lose hope. It is even harder to see any meaning in the suffering this kind of situation brings. The Christian tradition addresses suffering, and it is not solely Jesus on the Cross. That has been the ultimate inspiration through the centuries, but there have been many saints and martyrs who turned their adversity into something that positively impacted the lives of others. One could say that Michael had a positive impact on Andy, but it is a little esoteric.
Aside from me taking issue with Paddleton‘s subject matter, I am not sure why anyone would want to watch this movie. It is a tear jerker, not for me personally, but I can see some being visibly moved by it. There is merit to feeling such emotions. However, if you want to see a more transcendent film about the same idea, watch Our Friend (2019). If nothing else, there is no suicide and it features a person who actively sought to turn her suffering into something positive.