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Paradise (2013)
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Where Is Willie Aames When You Need Him?"
2 stars

Like so many acclaimed screenwriters before her, Diablo Cody has chosen to move into the director's chair for her latest project, "Paradise." Unfortunately, Cody the filmmaker has been let down by Cody the screenwriter and the result is an odd and unsuccessful exercise in sneering sarcasm that hardly seems to be from the same person who gave us "Jennifer's Body"--a misfire but at least a semi-coherent misfire--let alone such genuinely inspired works as "Juno" and "Young Adult."

Bearing no connection to either the Willie Aames-Phoebe Cates "Blue Lagoon" knockoff or the Don Johnson-Melanie Griffith melodrama of the same name, "Paradise" stars Julianne Hough as Lamb--and yes, the name is meant to be metaphorical--a devoutly religious young woman who is the sole survivor of a terrible plane crash that the film never gets around to actually depicting. Aside from scars on her arms and legs and a tendency to pop painkillers at the drop of a hat, Lamb is physically fine but spiritually shattered as the result of her experience. This inspires her to leave her equally devout parents (Holly Hunter and Nick Offerman) and venture off to Las Vegas for a taste of the more sinful aspects of life that she had previously denied herself. While there, she is befriended by a lounge singer (Octavia Spencer), a horny bartender (Russell Brand) and an aging hooker (Kathleen Rose Perkins) and, through her interactions with people that she might never have met if she had never gotten on that plane, begins to come to terms with what has happened to her so as to face an uncertain future.

Cody is one of the most distinctive and interesting screenwriters around but this effort seems like something that she quickly dashed off in a couple of weeks that would be easy to pull off from a directorial standpoint. The story certainly makes little sense--it is possible to create a story about someone whose faith would be shaken rather than reaffirmed after being the single survivor of a horrible disaster but she has not found it here--and the snarky, spiky dialogue that made "Juno" sound so fresh back in the day feels more like the forced efforts of someone trying to copy her unique gift for gab than anything else. Then again, even if the dialogue had been as sharp and incisive as the stuff in "Juno" or "Young Adult" (which is one of the best American comedies in recent years that you almost certainly never got around to seeing), it probably wouldn't have mattered much because most of it is in the hands of Julianne Hough, an actress who is as lovely and charming as can be but one who seems constitutionally incapable of bringing the appropriate level of snark to the material that Cody has given her.

From a directorial standpoint, Cody does show some promise with "Paradise"--she keeps things moving along in a reasonably smooth and efficient style and gets some decent performances out of Spencer, Brand and Perkins. With practice, she could one day turn into an accomplished filmmaker in her own right. However, if that is to happen, she is going to have to hold out for better material than what she has given herself here. Put it this way, if you see one Diablo Cody film that you haven't already seen this weekend, make it "Young Adult." Hell, if you have seen "Young Adult," watch it again--you will be far more satisfied after seeing it again than you will be venturing into Cody's misbegotten stab at "Paradise."

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=25680&reviewer=389
originally posted: 10/18/13 14:24:55
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USA
  18-Oct-2013 (PG-13)
  DVD: 12-Nov-2013

UK
  N/A

Australia
  18-Oct-2013




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