By Webster Tilton
In my mind there’s a chalkboard with two columns, labeled “Good” and “Bad.” Above the columns is written “The Existence of Netflix is a ____ thing.” Not everything on Netflix earns a tally mark in one of those columns because the vast majority of what’s on there is inert. What some people describe as ‘offensively inoffensive’.
But there are those titles that distinguish themselves at the far ends of the bell curve. Some months ago, I was delighted to write about The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, and last month a lack of other options led me to the surprisingly good “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind.” Each of these earned a tally mark in the “Good” column. But even my first review, of a lethally bland Christmas movie whose name I wont repeat, didn’t earn a mark in the “Bad” column. Everyone has some filler in their lineup. To earn a spot in the “Bad” column, a movie needed to constitute an abuse of the platform.
But yesterday I read something that made me think the debate was settled forever. I read that Netflix had green lit a Goop.com TV show. Yes, they’d decided to give snake oil saleswoman Gwyneth Paltrow a show from which to peddle her bogus ‘wellness’ products. The chalkboard seemed irrelevant after that. Promotional gimmick medicines makes me angrier than anything else in this universe. I mentally drew an infinity symbol in the “Bad” column and called it a day. But then…then I heard about a Netflix original film called “Paddleton.”
Paddleton stars Ray Romano as Andy and Mark Duplass as Michael. Andy and Michael are best friends and neighbors in a small apartment complex in northern California, and the very first scene in the movie tells us that Michael is terminally ill with stomach cancer.
He makes the decision to die medically rather than let the cancer eat him alive, but the decision isn’t the focus here. It gets a minute or so of screen time because it has to, and that’s it. The film is about two very simple guys, who don’t have any other friends, coping with the fact that one of them is about to die. Not once to they speak in movie dialogue. They only ever sound like two ordinary men trying to figure out how to deal with a situation for which “there aren’t any instructions.” It’s a picture about two men who have no idea how they’re supposed to feel about something, right up to the moment when it’s impossible not to feel.
This movie hurt. It felt so damned real, and honest, and authentic at every moment that it made all my snarky cynicism vanish and left me feeling ashamed of ever having brought it into the room with me.
Many reviewers have recently pointed out that the only films that get theater runs anymore are the mega-blockbusters. If it isn’t an Avengers or Star Wars type film you probably won’t ever even hear about it. But films like Paddleton can still get made, and distributed, because of platforms like Netflix. And if the platform facilitates the continuing existence of high-quality art that would otherwise die off, then I can get past them using it for things like Goop.
So, for now, the balance of the chalkboard favors “Good.”