‘Paradise’ Movie Review – Not in the Ballpark
Overcompensating can be a dangerous thing. It’s something we see in plenty of situations, such as when people are trying to correct when they swerve in a car. We also see it when someone takes their first drink of alcohol and decide to go off the deep end. Diablo Cody’s Paradise focuses more on the latter issue, since the main character decides to make-up for lost time when it comes to bad behaviors. The main issue becomes how tame the film is despite having Sin City as a backdrop. Unfortunately, Paradise is nowhere near the precedent set years ago with Juno, which is admittedly an unfair expectation. However, it’s not even in the ballpark.
Paradise refers to both the actual place (where The Strip is located near Las Vegas) and the proverbial place. In this case, the proverbial place would be where the main character, Lamb Mannerhelm (Julianne Hough), is looking for happiness. Having survived a horrific plane crash, she’s left with a disfigured body – but, of course she still has a pretty face. However, the internal scars are much worse. Having been raised in a tight-knit, and religiously-insane, community, she starts the movie by questioning God and his so-called grace.
With her faith broken, she takes all her settlement money and vows to live life as free as possible. Since she’s been cooped up her whole life, Lamb goes to the one place where sin runs rampant: Las Vegas. Here, she meets an older woman (Octavia Spencer) and an English bartender (Russell Brand) who try their best to show her the ins-and-outs of Vegas.
Diablo Cody, the writer of one of the greatest “quirky comedies” Juno, wrote and directed Paradise. In Juno, she gives an unflinching look at adolescence without omitting the stuff we try to brush under the rug. In that case, it was teen pregnancy. It smartly didn’t go too Pro- or too Anti-, instead finding a sweet story in a not-so-sweet scenario.
In Paradise, she comes so close towards the middle of the film to create a genuine scenario that doesn’t feel so one-sided. Although it starts as a sort of anti-God film, it doesn’t continue this trend when Lamb finally blurts out what is bothering her. It’s not as much about God, it’s more about how she’s treated since the horrific accident. People don’t know how to respond and come across as fake and unfair, leading her to voice her frustration about wanting to be “normal.”
This becomes the real turning point in the movie, where it had the opportunity to move forward into unchartered territory.
But then it slips back into its old rhythm. And rhythm isn’t a good thing here because it comes together in a sweet and tidy fashion like I wish it hadn’t. In other words, it doesn’t pull a Juno.
And for that, it’s tough to praise this movie on a level you’d hope. Spencer’s character pokes fun at stereotypes in movies, and I find it interesting that the movie ironically falls into this pattern. The shy-but-beautiful stereotype is played out. The player-turned-nice-guy role is also filled. It’s all there and presented in a way that’s just too tidy.
Diablo Cody’s directorial debut, Paradise, doesn’t seem like it should be a flop. While Juno had teen pregnancy, Paradise had sin. With an unlikely trio of characters, it also didn’t seem like it’d be a failure. However, the narrative didn’t seem (for the third time) to be overly sweet and predictable. That’s where everything went wrong.
Paradise is available in limited release after releasing on Video On Demand earlier. Check it out if it sounds like your thing.
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