Why Haven’t You Seen This Movie? ~ Paradise (1991)

Paradise

The Facts:

Synopsis: An unhappy couple rediscover their lost love for one another when a 10 year old boy comes to visit them for the summer…

Stars: Don Johnson, Melanie Griffith, Elijah Wood, Thora Birch

Director: Mary Agnes Donoghue

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 111 minutes

TMMM Score: (7.5/10)

Review: An American remake of the French film Le Grand Chemin (The Grand Highway), Paradise was conceived as a star-vehicle for the then-married duo of Griffth and Johnson.  Playing a couple teetering on the brink of separation one can’t help but see some real life parallels.  Johnson and Griffth would eventually divorce (for the second time!) in 1996 but here they play well off each other in a sweet, harmless puff of a film that I’ve always found to be a nice diversion.  While the couple receives top billing, the film unquestionably belongs to Wood as a sensitive boy sent to live with his mom’s friend while the mother gets her life together.  The conceit that the mother would leave her son with people he doesn’t know for an entire summer always was a creaky plot contrivance.  The couple has suffered a loss and if the mother and Griffth’s character were such good friends, she would know that a young boy staying with them that is roughly the same age as their son would have been seems a little rough.

Wood was just starting off in Hollywood and from his performance here it’s easy to see why his career took off.  The acting never seems forced or false and he holds his own, creating a character that’s sensitive and justifiably standoffish.  His developing father-son-esque relationship with Johnson brings out the best in both.  I’ve never found Johnson to be an actor to write home about but he does good work here…his scenes with Wood and Griffith have an authenticity that’s hard to fake.  Griffith’s voice will wear on you after a while but she’s remarkably restrained here…she’ll never be as good as she was in Working Girl but this was a departure of a role for her and ultimately she acquits herself nicely.

If Wood makes a good impression here, Birch walks away with the movie.  Precocious, mischievous, and wise beyond her young years she buddies up to Wood and forms a great friendship over the summer.  It would have been so easy to insert a little growing romance between the two but when Birch pats Wood on the back and says “You’re my best friend”…it’s more of a heart-tugger than any unrequited love that could exist between the two.

With a movie filled with some obvious clichés it’s not surprising that this failed to ignite the box office or gather much praise from the critics but never you mind that.  What you have here is an overlooked movie that has a lot of heart and no major agenda.  Give it a spin.

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