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Paradise Reviews

PARADISE is a small, modest, family-oriented film which disappeared from theaters shortly after its opening, seemingly overwhelmed by a number of higher-profile productions. No 10-year-old likes being yanked from the familiar and plunked into the unfamiliar. And Willard Young (Elijah Woods) is no exception. His mother Rosemary (Eve Gordon) has an emergency and needs to be unencumbered for the summer and she prevails upon her old friends to house the boy at their home in the town of Paradise. The friends are quite hesitant about accepting the responsibility of hosting the boy. Ben Reed (Don Johnson) and his wife Lily (Melanie Griffith) are still grieving and emotionally frozen after the accidental death of their own son. They can barely cope with the burden of each other's pain, which has built a wall between them, leaving them uncommunicative and unyielding. But Willard, their new charge, is quite guileless. He is determined to make the most of this unwelcome exile and his youthful curiosity and eagerness serve to make those icy walls come tumbling down. Luckily, Willard makes friends with a pixieish little girl Billie Pike (Thora Birch), and both children explore and find adventure in the miracles of nature and the fickledom of adult foibles. As the summer progresses, Willard becomes a son to Ben and Lily and serves as a catalyst for a much-needed thaw in their relationship. And Willard himself, heretofore shy and troubled, comes of age during these summer months. He learns about fishing and also learns about loving and giving. In her feature debut, PARADISE was directed by Mary Agnes Donoghue from her own screenplay, adapted from Jean-Loup Hubert's acclaimed LE GRAND CHEMIN. A successful author of short stories and poetry, Donoghue has written the screenplays for BEACHES and DECEIVED, as well as a half-dozen other films. Both leads in the film, real-life spouses Johnson and Griffith, succeed in giving portraits of a married couple who are deeply disturbed. They offer an ensemble performance which is soul-satisfying and void of vying. There's an honesty, too, in the presentation of bottled-up grief and latent vulnerability in their marital relationship and their relationship with the boy in their care for the summer. The central focus of the film, however, is 10-year-old veteran Elijah Wood (AVALON), who plays Willard Young and succeeds not only in thawing the hearts of Lily and Ben Reed but of the audience. Likewise, 9-year-old Thora Birch, who plays Billie Pike, Willard's chum in PARADISE, began her career when she was just four. She won her role after director Donoghue interviewed more than 4000 other young hopefuls. PARADISE earns our attention without any drums rolling to achieve it. Much of the film's charm lies in Jerzy Zielinski's lush photography and Evelyn Sakash and Marcia Hind's production design. The musical score by David Newman is also noteworthy.