Article first published as Blu-ray Review: 'Paradise' (2013) on Blogcritics.
Winning an Academy Award for your debut screenplay certainly puts
more pressure on the rest of your career. Diablo Cody made a smashing
debut with Juno and has yet to receive the same kind of acclaim.
Even with “Academy Award-winning writer” plastered on everything she’s
involved with, Cody’s writing is sketchy at best. Bouncing from Juno to Jennifer’s Body to Young Adult and now (in her directing debut) Paradise on Blu-ray November 12.
Whatever Cody’s next film may be will probably receive the same kind of acclaim seen by Juno and Young Adult.
However, anyone expecting her directing debut to be an all-out Diablo
Cody film, prepare yourselves for her quietest film yet. Considering the
story takes on religion, I thought she’d have more to say on the
subject. Instead, she sets her sights on the easiest jokes possible but
dispenses them all within the first 10 minutes. From there on, the film
turns more to drama and a snail’s pace, deadening any kind of life
lessons she may have had planned.
Lamb Mannerheim (Julianne Hough) appears to be the quick-witted,
quirky character one would expect in any kind of Cody screenplay. Having
survived a plane explosion, and losing most of her skin in the process,
the scarred Lamb has won a huge settlement and is expected to make a
large donation to her local church. Instead, Lamb denounces her beliefs
and declares there is no God. Lamb leaves her parents (Nick Offerman and
Holly Hunter) behind and heads for Las Vegas where she can try out all
the worldly pleasures she’s been kept away from. After checking into the
Palms, she hits up a bar where she meets bartender William (Russell
Brand) and Loray (Octavia Spencer) who join her on a night out of
drinking and sight-seeing. But everything comes to a head after a
breakdown in a restroom where she meets Amber “the magical prostitute,”
and Lamb learns that she should probably venture down a different path.
Suffering from some huge tone issues and glacial pacing, Paradise does not bounce from start to finish with the huge laughs we were treated to from her Cody’s previous endeavors. Even Jennifer’s Body
had more jokes and ideas skirting around to make them better than this.
While the film may seem dead-on-arrival — it’s brief On-Demand debut
was more of a heads up than we thought — at least Cody has learned how
to shoot a picture. The 1.85:1 presentation is faultless, aside from
some slight shimmer on the side of a taxi. No banding, aliasing, crush,
or noise ever shows up, skintones are spot on and resolution is razor
sharp. Obviously shot digitally, the film looks like a million bucks on
Blu-ray. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is slightly reserved but still
makes good use of surround whenever the soundtrack kicks in or bringing
the streets of the Vegas strip to life. English and Spanish subtitles
are also included.
special features are as reserved as the film. The highlight could have
been the Diablo Cody audio commentary, but at the beginning she says she
hopes this doesn’t wind up being featured on “Commentaries from Hell”
but it’s likely to wind up being more of a commentary of the neglected.
Most people don’t listen to them anyway and I expected more from Cody,
instead it comes off as more of a play-by-play of what’s happening
onscreen. There’s also the film’s theatrical trailer and 15 minutes of
Behind the Scenes featurettes including Diablo Cody, Russell Brand,
Julianne Hough, and Octavia Spencer. RLJ Entertainment previews for Goat Man, Last Love, and The Numbers Station play at startup before you get to the main menu.
Anyone who’s a fan of Diablo Cody may find something of interest within Paradise,
but don’t expect the fun of any of her previous work. A 99.9% faultless
presentation makes the film look more polished than most
direct-to-video offerings, but with no real special features, Paradise feels as thrown to the wind as the film itself. Unfortunately, this Paradise is for Diablo Cody enthusiasts only.