There are no grand Hollywood moments in RUBY IN PARADISE, a drama about one intelligent woman finding herself, just a series of quiet scenes and personal epiphanies that add up to a satisfying independent film.
Ashley Judd (youngest daughter of country music star Naomi Judd), stars as Ruby Lee Gissing, a restless, strong-willed woman who bolts her stifling West Virginia hometown and drives to Panama City, a Florida resort annually besieged by college students on spring break. This purported paradise
promises Ruby fresh opportunities, but she arrives right after the frenzied tourist season has ended. Ruby lands a sales-clerk position in a beachside gift shop run by sympathetic but no-nonsense Mildred Chambers (Dorothy Lyman). Her son Ricky (Bentley Mitchum) has driven off a succession of
female employees with both his sexual advances and habitual filching from the store safe. Ruby, more out of resigned curiosity than weakness, lets herself become Ricky's latest conquest.
Ruby finds another, apparently ideal, boyfriend in Mike (Todd Field), who seems Ricky's opposite; he's caring, well-read, environmentally active, politically correct, a great cook--but he too wants more control than Ruby is willing to give. When Ricky fires Ruby for breaking off their one-sided
affair, she takes a menial laundry job so she won't have to admit to Mike that she's out of work. Mrs. Chambers soon reappears, offering apologies, promises that Ricky is in therapy, and Ruby's old situation back; Ruby accepts, and is promoted to manager when they open a second store, just in time
for the annual spring break boom. Ruby has spent the year wondering whether Panama City is a destination or just a rest-stop in her life; on the anniversary of her arrival, she decides to stay.
Regional filmmaker Victor Nunez (GAL YOUNG'UN) knows both North Florida and its quirky inhabitants, and RUBY IN PARADISE explores the territory with assurance and wisdom. The serene locations and off-season ambiance should dispel forever the memory of all those teen comedies about horny kids on
spring break, while newcomer Judd's bedrock performance--she's on screen virtually all the time, and narrates via introspective diary entries--is as strong and solid as one could ask. Unglamorous, yet alluring, smart but not above reckless impulses, Ruby Lee Gissing is that rarest of movie
creations, one who feels like an old friend by the time her tale is told. The supporting actors are equally credible, with Bentley Mitchum (Robert's son) avoiding the temptation to turn Ricky into a caricature. If the story's pace tends towards slowness, it only enhances the lyrical, contemplative
RUBY IN PARADISE took a Grand Jury Prize at the 1993 Sundance Film Festival, won glowing praise from the critics and made Ashley Judd someone to watch out for. But it never broke out beyond the art-house circuit to reach general audiences, even with the Judd family name attached. Perhaps due to
the very low budget, the soundtrack is conspicuously free of country/western melodies, a pity since the universal emotions addressed by the film are the stuff of which the best lonesome ballads are made. (Adult situations, nudity, sexual situations, profanity.)
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- Released: 1993
- Rating: NR
- Review: There are no grand Hollywood moments in RUBY IN PARADISE, a drama about one intelligent woman finding herself, just a series of quiet scenes and personal epiphanies that add up to a satisfying independent film. Ashley Judd (youngest daughter of country… (more)