New on Netflix this week: Paddleton makes cancer funny

Mark Duplass and Ray Romano star in American comedy Paddleton

Donal Lynch

Paddleton (2019)

Available Wednesday

“It’s as serious as cancer,” sang Snap! on 1990s hit Rhythm is a Dancer. And yet in this film, which debuted at Sundance earlier this year, director Alex Lehmann somehow finds ways to make the illness amusing. It deals with Michael (Mark Duplass) and his neighbour Andy (Ray Romano), who lives above him in a dingy apartment complex. Michael’s diagnosis with a terminal version of the Big C is revealed immediately, and the action then focuses on the pair’s efforts to cope with the awful news, made all the more painful by how deeply enmeshed in each other’s lives both men are. Eventually Michael decides he wants to end his own life, but the catch is that the drugs that will enable this course of action are only available in a remote location. This could have been the cue for a worthy piece on assisted suicide but instead it plays out like a kind of macabre road trip, full of tender and funny moments. Duplass and Romano have excellent chemistry and this film is a worthwhile meditation on the value of male friendship.

The Photographer of Mauthausen (2018)

Available Wednesday

This film, a Spanish language adaptation of an acclaimed graphic novel, is a dramatic retelling of true events in the life of Francisco — Francois — Boix, a Spanish press photographer and communist who fled to France at the beginning of World War II. There he quickly found himself handed over by the French to the Nazis, who sent him to the notorious and titular concentration camp in Austria, where he spent the war among thousands of other Spaniards and other prisoners. More than half of them would die there. Through an odd turn of events, Boix finds himself the confidante of an SS officer who is documenting prisoner deaths at the camp. Boix realises that he has a chance to prove Nazi war crimes by stealing the negatives of these awful photos — but only at the risk of his own life, that of a young Spanish boy he has sworn to protect, as well as that of every prisoner in the camp. As a piece of Holocaust art it’s not quite on the same level as Elie Wiesel’s Night, Art Spiegelman’s Maus or even Spielberg’s Schindler’s List, but it still has some deeply affecting moments and lingers in the memory days after viewing.

The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina

1 Series, available now

This is almost like the show Netflix made for those who bored of Riverdale once its David Lynch-ian take of cheesy 1950s Americana waned in season two. Like Riverdale’s source material, Sabrina is based on a critically acclaimed comic from 2014 (which was itself based on the Archie comics), but it has a far tighter scripting and superior performances. It stars Kiernan Shipka as an embattled witch who has to deal with the familial expectation for her to sign a deal with the devil. This is the cue for some incredible campness, joyfully unhinged set pieces and undertow of darkness that Lynch himself would be proud of. It never takes itself too seriously. The creator of Riverdale and this series — Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa — has said he hopes a crossover series will happen at some point, so they may yet ruin everything that makes this great.

American Honey (2016)

Available now

This is a coming-of-age tale about a teenaged American girl called Star (Sasha Lane) who is escaping an abusive relationship by living like a semi-vagrant picking expired food from bins. Eventually she links up with Jake (Shia LaBeouf), a charming yet scruffy young man who shepherds a crew of salespeople across the country. They’re a makeshift family of vagabonds and outcasts, teenage stoners and thirtysomething drunks. Each comes from a different state, each has a different story. Jake and Star have a kind of grungy road-mance and the cinematography is a weird ode to the sameness of American towns. It’s a strange, lyrical kind of a film — there are echoes of Gus Van Sant here — and at 163 minutes it’s a little overlong, but it is worth the effort and counts as one of the hidden gems on Netflix.