Girl is beautiful, happy and faithful. Girl has accident. Girl doesn’t feel beautiful or happy. Girl swears off God and rebels. Girl changes her mind. The end.
Paradise, also known as Lamb of God, is the directional debut of Diablo Cody (of Juno fame). Predominantly known as a writer it was interesting to see how her writing would translate into a film where she had full creative licence. Her trademark of stories is that they frequently centre on a woman or a girl with a public and obvious external struggle who is also hiding a much more personal internal struggle.
Lamb Mannerheim (Julianne Hough) is a devout church going young women from Montana who goes through a personal spiritual dilemma. She has just survived a traumatic airplane crash which has left her with severe burns over two-thirds of her body and her faith is shaken. She decides that God cannot be an all loving, gracious God she has been taught. On the day she has been given the platform at church to share her testimony she publically denounced God and, after causing an uproar at church and major embarrassment to her parents, leaves the little town of her birth to head to the big city. She arrives in Las Vegas to explore the ‘sins’ of the secular world where she meets up with a bartender named William (Russell Brand) and a cynical lounge singer named Loray (Octavia Spencer) who she enlists to show her the grit of the worldly town.
This film is a lot sweeter and less weighty than previous screenplays written by Diablo Cody, which could be quite disappointing if you are exposed to her previous work. The film is by no means bad but comes across as a little empty and shallow. This movie is a little less ‘woah’ than you would hope for. The acting of Julianne Hough, although sweet and authentic, is not strong enough to make us believe that she is devastated to find out her entire world was a fallacy or that she is going through a deep spiritual crisis. Russell Brand seems to be at a stand-up comedy gig, although a great comedian his acting didn’t convince that he was, firstly, a womanizing and bedraggled bartender or, secondly, that Lamb helped him reform his ways and teach him to truly care about someone. He seemed rather to be a quirky good guy who spat out funny lines. This may just be the dry English humour but it didn’t work in a movie set so far set in the paradox of conservative South meets extravagant Vegas. Perhaps the real issue is that Brand’s brand of comedy wasn’t utilized well, it just seemed out of place and therefore less effective.
Although the film does expose the ordinary man to the ordinary town of Las Vegas, and it’s people, as opposed to The Strip that is mistaken as Las Vegas but is actually in the town of Paradise. It also shows the true heart of this ‘paradise’, the ordinary people struggling to keep their heads above water, the seedy backwater shows and shocking normality of the town; proving that the grass on the other side is simply a different shade of green. It is also not as Jesus-bashing as one might assume, with Lamb coming to a deeper understanding of the God she worships by the end of the narrative and returning to her faith with a slightly older, more mature and liberal understanding of her faith. In the process of this she also rubbed off on William and Loray, the two unsuspecting supporting characters who she spends time with in Vegas.