In Paddleton, the first of four pictures to emerge from his Netflix deal, Mark Duplass presents a simple story with colorful, idiosyncratic characters, once again demonstrating a singular ability to craft a wholly involving feature out of improv, an outline and little more. Directed by Alex Lehmann (Blue Jay), the drama centers on two misfit neighbors, Michael (Duplass) and Andy (Ray Romano), who like to get together for a regular game of paddleton, discussing whimsical hypotheticals and watching their favorite flicks. When Michael is diagnosed with terminal cancer, both struggle to face it, while their friendship continues to deepen.
In case you’re wondering, the game of paddleton was made up specifically for this film. “The game is played by hitting a racquetball with a tennis racket off of an enormous wall, and having it ricochet and then bounce—without touching it—into the trashcan,” Duplass explained recently, appearing at Deadline’s Sundance Studio with his co-star. For Duplass (who wrote the film with Lehmann) the game was the perfect metaphor for a particular kind of friendship, revealing everything about Paddleton‘s central characters. “We really liked the idea that these guys are very unique, and their bond is very sweet and special,” he said. “Paddleton is a game that you can play with your friend, but not against your friend. Because I think they love each other so much, they don’t want to beat each other at anything.”
Also appearing on Netflix in the recently-released comedy special Right Here, Around the Corner—his first special in over 20 years—Romano took his Paddleton character seriously, diving into some backstory and helping to flesh out Andy was. “It was all giving it flavor, but because we knew these guys were into trivia, and memorabilia, and little things, we would brainstorm on those little things,” Romano told Deadline. “Some of them made it, some of them didn’t.”
To Duplass, this latest film reflects interests he’s pursued since hitting Sundance with his first short, and launching his career. “I really like outliers and, I’m really interested in strange and different people that don’t quite click in,” Duplass shared. “I also like very tiny things that you can then extrapolate bigger things from, epically small things that, when you really look closely at them, contain the world.”
“On Everybody Loves Raymond, that was the best part that I liked,” Romano added. “The minutiae.”
Paddleton hits Netflix on February 22. To view our conversation with the film’s stars, take a look above.