Paradise, available on home video Nov. 12, is the directorial debut of screenwriter Diablo Cody (Juno, Young Adult). The film boasts some meaningful moments, but the narrative is brought down by stereotypes, ignorance and a story that feels like an excuse to make a movie where a naive girl is thrown into the sin city of all sin cities: Las Vegas.
Julianne Hough plays Lamb, a 21 year old from a small church town where everybody hates Democrats and Muslims. Plus, you can’t dance, listen to music, watch movies … it’s basically a liberal’s fantasy of what all of mid-west America is like.
Anyway, our protagonist is badly injured in a plane accident and receives a very big settlement. Through her ordeal and recovery she loses her faith in God and tells her church that she is going to Las Vegas to bathe in sin. This all sounds like the set up to a very poorly done porno (impressively noted by one of Paradise’s characters).
Paradise starts off horribly. Cody, as a screenwriter, isn’t taking her story seriously at all. She presents a terrible town where big, bad conservatives believe God is everything and homosexuals, Jewish folk and Muslims are evil. It’s done for cheap laughs only none of it is funny, and it sets up the rest of the film poorly, poking a hole in any drama the movie presents seriously from that point forward.
The rest of the story is supposed to be our main character discovering the world through sins like reading adult magazines and drinking a lot. What really hurts the movie is that sometimes Cody is not treating what’s on screen as people in situations. Rather, she is writing set ups and punchlines. A lot of the time Lamb is just the end of a weak joke Cody feels is funny because she thinks that there are still a plethora of towns deprived of pop culture, shorts and films.
It’s unfortunate that Cody treats two thirds of her movie as a joke because the final act presents some poignant sequences. The film finally gravitates toward a point, and the writing suddenly becomes intelligent and witty. It seems that with this movie Cody was left to her own devices. She just woke up and decided to write a movie for no other reason than to write a movie. With no ideas she wrote typical conservative stereotypes and treated her characters like punching bags so she could laugh at her script’s debauchery.
She must’ve decided two thirds of the way through that the whole thing needed a theme so she gave it one and became the writer that we all know her to be.
Despite most of the characters being written in a two-dimensional fashion, the actors are all good here. Russell Brand is the biggest surprise. He gets what could have been a real throwaway character as the knowing barkeep, but he manages to achieve some depth that helps the movie in the end.
The DVD for Paradise contains a commentary from Cody and a behind-the-scenes feature.
Paradise is a story handicapped by politics, pettiness and thin writing. It’s too bad because Cody is a talented screenwriter that has and will pull off some pretty amazing work.