Diablo Cody’s films are usually full of wit, edginess, and originality. She’s not for everyone, but she did provide a breath of fresh air with her Oscar-winning screenplay, “Juno,” and 2011’s “Young Adult.” She also wrote the screenplay for “Jennifer’s Body,” but that was missed by this reviewer. With “Paradise,” which releases to select theaters on Oct. 18, Cody makes her debut in the director’s chair. And, again, she gives the viewer an original screenplay, but it’s filled with cliches in every single corner. Those are something that Cody is usually good at avoiding or putting a little spin on to make it unique. Unfortunately, it doesn’t happen here.
Lamb (Julianne Hough) publicly renounces her faith in front of everyone – including her parents – in her small Montana town. What’s her reason? Well, she survived a plane crash – which many would call a “miracle” or an “act of God.” But she was also “barbequed in jet fuel,” as she puts it, and left with scars all over her body – for which she has to take painkillers.
And what does the sheltered, conservative girl think is the one place to go to have fun and commit as much sin as possible? Why, Las Vegas, of course. She packs her bags, makes a list of sins, and goes on her way. While there, she meets a bartender (Russell Brand) and a lounge singer (Octavia Spencer) who help her with her quest.
The first few minutes of “Paradise” have that promise of being another great Cody film. But when it comes to commenting on the right wingers, Cody resorts to churchgoers shouting words like “socialist” and other typical and tiring insults about the people on the left. And then to add onto that, Lamb says that she just “might even vote Democrat,” which causes a huge uproar.
Lamb may have been another quirky and unique Cody character, if Hough had any real conviction behind her acting and if she wasn’t given so many go-to oddball quirks for those experiencing the real world for the first time. Brand and Spencer are just OK in their roles, and Nick Offerman and Holly Hunter are practically wasted as Lamb’s parents.
Cody does get in a few good lines of dialogue. One revealing moment has Lamb telling the hipsters in a bar that she’s never been exposed to any kind of pop culture. Their immediate reaction is a confused look followed by “Oh, you are so lucky.” But a lot of the screenplay is filled with so many on-the-nose scenarios, including the main character being a conservative Christian named Lamb and the fact that she doesn’t actually travel to Vegas, but to the suburban area known as Paradise.
Cody does show some potential as a director, but “Paradise” feels like she just quickly wrote it up, so she could try something new in the filmmaking world.