Paradise is the feature-length directorial debut from Oscar-winning screenwriter Diablo Cody, whose scripting career started off with a bang thanks to her script for the quirky indie teen pregnancy dramedy Juno. The story devised by Cody revolves around 21-year old Lamb Mannerheim: a conservative Christian woman – from a small town in Montana – who suffers a crisis of faith after she survives a horrifying accident. Armed with a hefty amount of insurance payout cash, Lamb heads to Las Vegas in the hope that she will finally get to experience a more fulfilling side of life (read: hedonistic living).
Julianne Hough (Footloose) is headlining the film as Lamb, while her Rock of Ages costar Russell Brand plays a Vegas bartender – and Oscar-winner Octavia Spencer (Snowpiercer) portrays a lounge singer – the latter pair of which come together and take Hough’s naive protagonist under their wings. Rounding out the supporting cast are such people as Holly Hunter (Saving Grace) and Nick Offerman (Parks and Recreation).
Cody is known for her pop culturally-informed and sardonic dialogue, in addition to her ability to combine dark comedy and satire in character-oriented stories – be they set against a fantastical backdrop (like in the horror film Jennifer’s Body) or the “real-world,” as portrayed in Juno, Young Adult, and the Cody-created cable TV series United States of Tara. Subtlety, however, isn’t exactly her strong suit – and the ham-fisted hipper-than-thou tone is the problem that stands out, as far as the Paradise trailer footage is concerned (in this writer’s humble opinion).
As is to be expected, Paradise looks like a director’s debut; visually-speaking, the footage doesn’t have all that strong a cinematic flavor. Likewise, the story offers a fresher spin on the self-discovery/coming of adult age narrative – by exploring those sub-genres from a young woman’s perspective – but it appears to recycle a number of plot beats and cliches from past films in a tedious fashion.
The three primary cast members (Hough, Brand and Spencer) seem to have decent chemistry – and bring an earnestness to the proceedings – but that might not be enough to save this movie from being anything more than a future rental option. Here is to hoping that Paradise turns out better than that, if only because this kind of project – personal content produced by a female storyteller – has a hard-enough time gaining traction at the box office, even with respectable word of mouth (see: The To-Do List, for a recent example).
Paradise will become available on Video on Demand starting August 8th, 2013, before it opens in a limited theatrical release beginning on October 18th later this year.