Home Video Hovel: Paradise, by Mat Bradley-Tschirgi
Diablo Cody makes her directorial debut with Paradise, a film about a woman’s first trip to Las Vegas. However, this is no ordinary woman—this is Lamb, home-schooled in conservative Blakeslee, Montana. After a horrific plane crash ends her boyfriend’s life and leaves her covered in second- and third-degree burns, Lamb renounces her belief in God and flies straight to Sin City loads of cash. Zaniness ensues. The solid performances can’t be saved from a rote story saddled with precious dialogue and a twee tone.
Rock of Ages’ Julianne Hough stars as Lamb, delivering a convincing performance as a small town girl popping into Las Vegas for a weekend. Cody does an admirable job of zipping the story to its Las Vegas locale in under 10 minutes, but the setup for the character is very broad. Her entire church community is displayed as naïve idiots, gasping in shock as she describes the very real, very painful nature of her burns covering her body. When she arrives into Las Vegas bright eyed and bushy tailed, she comes across as more spoiled than liberated. Most of Paradise has a cutesy tone jam-packed with voiceovers that titillate the audience with the sins she’s committing, such as rhythmic bobbing or drinking firewater.
Hough isn’t the only cast member from Rock of Ages; Russell Brand has a supporting role as William Carl, the bartender at the first bar Lamb wanders into. He pours her very first drink in her life, a double Peach Schnapps straight up. After coughing the drink up her nose, she watches “bar-tainer” Loray sing a cover of Radiohead’s No Surprises. Played by Academy Award winner Octavia Spencer, Loray is a beleaguered protector of Lamb’s first big night in the city. Instead of hanging around the strip, Loray drags Lamb into the “real Las Vegas” where the locals go. The trio’s picaresque adventures are lacking in excitement. There are a few decent scenes here, most notably a brief exchange between the trio about the role of the “Magical Negro” in films. Too much of the dialogue comes across as a privileged, conceited take on Kevin Smith’s patois. It tries so hard to be clever that it never stops to wonder if it’s actually about anything. Paradise is a series of scenes with tons of snappy comebacks but no emotional resonance to the characters themselves, rendering the whole film a light trifle at best.
Paradise has a few bright spots by the dashboard lights. The makeup of Lamb’s burns is so realistic that it is painful to look at. Holly Hunter and a near unrecognizable Nick Offerman sans moustache play Lamb’s parents in some tender moments bookending the film; more establishing scenes with them could have given Lamb more of a personality before she vamooses to Vegas. The cinematography by Tim Suhrstedt gets some colorful urban vistas across, contrasting the look of the new and old Las Vegas strips.
The Blu-ray of Paradise features a crisp transfer with bold colors with a decent, if limited, sound mix. The audio commentary from writer/director Diablo Cody is breezy, describing many deleted scenes that aren’t featured on the disc itself. Four short featurettes round out the disc with brief interviews from Diablo Cody, Julianne Hough, Russell Brand, and Octavia Spencer interspersed with clips from the film. A bland directorial debut from Diablo Cody, Paradise is barely worthy of its name and even less worth of your time.