Diablo Cody's directorial debut "Paradise" is a mixed movie bag, an engaging collision of heartfelt sentimental sap and cynical, sarcastic rebellion. This marks a serviceable yet uninspired start for the Lemont native and Oscar-winning writer of "Juno."
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The aptly named Lamb (Julianne Hough), the local darling of her small conservatively religious Montana community, was nearly burned alive in a horrible (and never-seen) airplane crash that killed her fiance and her faith in God.
"There is no God!" she shouts to the congregation of the Grace Redeemers Church, among them her embarrassed conservative parents, played by Holly Hunter and a balding, shaven Nick Offerman.
With a stash of settlement money and a compression wardrobe for severe burn victims, Lamb heads to Sin City to make up for all the dancing, drinking, movie-watching and porn-seeing experiences her upbringing has denied her.
Once in Las Vegas, "Paradise" takes a wrong turn into Garry Marshallville when Lamb runs into the two sweetest and empathetic people on the Strip: gnarly British bartender William (Russell Brand) and tranquilized singer Loray (Octavia Spencer), who calls Lamb a "deep-fried Twinkie from Montana."
The casual razor wit that characterized the "Juno" dialogue feels strained and desperate here, as when Lamb sniffs perfume and proclaims, "This smells like a (prostitute)!" How exactly would Lamb know how a streetwalker smells?
Yet, some scenes in "Paradise" reveal Cody's well-guarded heart of gold that quietly shapes moments when Lamb demonstrates her Christian values of generosity and forgiveness. (When Lamb gives a $2,000 tip to Kathleen Rose Perkins' tired hooker, she drops her hardened countenance and bubbles with life as she realizes what the money means for her kids.)
"Paradise," like "Juno," isn't big on reflecting reality. But where the latter presented a consistent world view bumped up a few notches on the verbal interplay scale, the former is a bumpy, sketchy look at easily forgettable characters.
"Paradise" opens at the Streets of Woodfield in Schaumburg. Rated PG-13 for substance abuse, language and sexual situations. 105 minutes. ★ ★
Congrats film winners
Congratulations to Northwest suburban winners of the "Say It in Eight" student film contest sponsored by the After Hours Film Society. Entries could be no more than eight minutes in length.
"We were very impressed with the number and quality of entries this year," said Debbie Venezia, founder and executive director of the After Hours Film Society, in a news release. "The technical skills and creativity demonstrated by these aspiring filmmakers is astonishing."
The winning entries will be screened at 5 p.m. Monday, Oct. 21, at the Tivoli Theatre, 5021 Highland Ave., Downers Grove. Go to afterhoursfilmsociety.com for a complete list of winners and contest details.
Northwest suburban winners include:
• Krystal Bahena of Hadley Junior High School in Glen Ellyn, a Merit Citation for "Unicorn vs. Monster"
• Emma Harrington of Hadley Junior High School in Glen Ellyn, a Merit Citation for "Movie That's Groovy"
• Mishael Jacob of Waubonsie Valley High School in Aurora, a Merit Citation for "Malnourished"
• Niraun Kittiviriya of the College of DuPage, an Award of Excellence for "Running the World"
• Rob Logan of the College of DuPage, awarded Best of Show for "Slit Scan Tango"
• Megan Sheline and Maddie Miranda of Hadley Junior High School in Glen Ellyn, an Award of Excellence for "Chair Cars"
• Deanna Neil of Willowbrook High School in Villa Park, an Award of Excellence for "One Hell of a Family: Clash"
• Emily Poniatowski of the College of DuPage, an Award of Excellence for "Splinter"
• Monica Robare of Willowbrook High School in Villa Park, an Honorable Mention for "Peppermint Winter"
• Marc Walls of the College of DuPage, an Honorable Mention for "Repugnant"
• Daily Herald Film Critic Dann Gire's column runs Fridays in Time out!