“Paradise,” from RLJ entertainment and Mandate Pictures, is filled with misconceptions and extremism from the radical Christian right to the sin filled left on the Las Vegas Strip.
Written and directed by Diablo Cody, “Paradise” stars Octavia Spencer, Julianne Hough, Russell Brand and Holly Hunter.
“Paradise” begins with voice over as Lamb/Julianne Hough, from “Dancing with the Stars” explains her before trauma (BT) life and existence, the beautiful, scar less, perfect which fades into her after tragedy, (AT) life of scars, burns, a life wrapped in burn unit swaddling clothes.
Lamb and her mother, portrayed by Holly Hunter, are the religious right, unwavering in their belief, the extreme even the extreme warn about. Today, as “Paradise” opens is Lamb’s big day. She is giving her testimony on how she survived a horrific place crash that killed her fiancé and left her with burns across seventy-five percent of her body.
It was planned that she would explain the horror and terror, the dark nights of tears, and the anguish that only a benevolent God could heal. Unfortunately, the testimony doesn’t quite go that way as Lamb, decides this is the time she is going to explain to the congregation that she is denouncing her faith, that yep, the trial (as everyone calls this horrific accident) has beat her. “God!” she exclaims, to a stunned congregation, “God who?”
And off she goes to indulge in the sin filled pleasure of the world that she has been sheltered from her entire life. And where better? That’s right. Las Vegas, the sin filled city where anything and everything goes. So armed with her sin list, her LL bean tote bag of cash, (she was awarded a mega settlement) and her puritan beliefs she is headed to shed the old and welcome in the new.
Vegas, where everyone goes to forget someone or something, has brought a band of misfits together, with bartender William played by Russell Brand, Loray played by Octavia Spencer.
Both decide to protect Lamb as she is just that a lamb lost in the Vegas wilderness. Together they set off to fulfill the decadence and debauchery on the list in one night. Its beginner’s sin: one quick dash into Egypt, grab the evening’s pleasure and back out in the morning. Just a few hits of sin; she’s not planning the OD.
Halfway through the 24 hour orgasm of devilish delights she decides it’s not so fun. Drinking, puking, a tiny tattoo and even a glimpse of porn, is just too many poisonous darts from hell for one wounded soul to handle anyway.
“Paradise” is, as one would expect, elusive. There were individual moments, and even a few laughs and yes, Octavia Spencer, Holly Hunter, and Russell Brand hit the mark and provide character arc and resolution. The material, I guess, just isn’t there for them to do anything more with. It is a simple one, two, step.
“Paradise” has many “Toto, were not in Kansas anymore,” moments as our Lamb Dorothy steps off the airplane into the Emerald neon city. There, of course, she finds herself and with the cowardly lion, Brand, she makes it through the night, and understands there is no place like home. Especially when she realizes she is free to do whatever she desires and has the cash that truly frees her. Once permission is granted there is really no need to prove you can.
The Christian scenes and I do have Christian beliefs so therefore do not feel as if I need to walk on egg shells as I sift through the extremism, which are, honestly, the reason many sincere hearted people walk away from churches and find God on their own terms.
The horrific accident is meet with the ‘buck up God has big things for you’ or ‘God was punishing you for being beautiful’ or the countless other clueless responses Christians often use to rationalize tragedy.
And still, in “Paradise,” the statements of a blind, unquestioning, unwavering belief, almost a stepford belief drove me crazy.
Doesn’t anyone question God in times of distress and sorrow? This of course could be a mask for the inability to mentally process such an egregious tragedy.
I understood the statements and the depth of sorrow as the character, Lamb who appeared BT as a sincere hearted, albeit sheltered, naïve, and extreme follower, could not believe that God would allow someone who was sincere to face such extreme sorrow to the point that it seemed more like abuse then mercy from a benevolent God.
I felt Ms. Hough, even with the physical scars, as she is given body props to assist her in finding the depth needed to project that faith precipice, couldn’t reach that place or even find a balance.
And I guess there was supposed to be some level of whimsical attached to the situation and sorrow as the sins she partook were written over the scenes in white cursive. So possibly she wasn’t supposed to reach the depth of sorrow one would expect from the level of the wounding.
The dress of the religious characters, always one of my pet peeves in the church as females are never allowed to exhibit couture sense and that is no different in “Paradise.”
Vegas is Vegas. Bright lights, neon beckoning, advertisements of seduction. Finding pure gold in a gilded city is a difficult task. Spencer and Brand do step away from the clichés and become two pieces of humanity, and provide realistic performances, of the stop over that became the stay, in what is otherwise debauchery filled scenes of been there done that.
“Paradise” opens nationwide October 18, 2013. Check your local listings.