Thursday, August 11, 2005

Review: Reel Paradise (2005)

Reel Paradise
110 minutes
Rated R

By Scott Mendelson

Reel Paradise
concerns the last month in a year (2003-ish) spent in Fiji by an independent film guru and his family. Eleven months ago, independent film producer John Pierson moved his family to Fiji for a year for the express purpose of using the sole movie theatre in the poverty stricken community to run a yearlong film festival, free of charge.

The best thing about Steve James' Reel Paradise is what it's not about. It's not about how movies have the awesome power to remake a community and change millions of lives forever. It's not about how a white family comes into a Fiji village and imparts the 'noble savages' with valuable life lessons, nor is it about how the indigenous natives make the Pierson family better people. No, Reel Paradise is about how the Pierson family moves to Fiji and shows free movies to the locals. Period. That's it. Yes, there are other issues that come into play, but the film makes a point to keep the focus purely on the Pierson family and their low-key, complete plausible experiences in this last month. This is quite simply a slice of life.

We are quickly introduced to the family, which includes John Pierson, his wife Janet, and their two children, Wyatt (13) and Georgia (16). We are then introduced the screening philosophy of John Pierson. He screens all kinds of movies, from X-Men 2 to vintage Buster Keaton. While art films are worthwhile, people want fun movies so there's about two or three Hot Chicks for every Apocalypse Now's.

The film unfolds at a leisurely pace, with occasional bumps along the way. Toward the end of the first third, there is a break-in; the second in a year, and the reaction of the landlord has to be seen to be believed. The family struggles with their own problems, save for Wyatt, who seems to enjoy being a junior-league film buff who argues with his father about which films to play. John deals with his nasty temper and his need for absolute understanding and perfection of those who work for him. Georgia tests her mother's patience with her free-spirited and flirtatious ways (Georgia doesn't come off terribly well in the footage we see, but just remember that she's probably not that different from many teenage girls at that stage of life). And Janet fears that one of her friends or someone she knows was behind the break-ins, and she is disturbed at the idea that she doesn't know what the right decisions are in relation to caring for her children.

The main community conflict comes from the local religious groups. First off, John insists on starting the films at 7:30pm, which conflicts with the evening service. The main bone of contention I leave you to discover, but it's not about the content of the films and the situation brings about a compelling dialogue about differing philosophies.

And that's really all that needs to be stated about the film's storyline. It's a fun, quirky movie, with an honest look at four Americans trying to fit in and enjoy life in Fiji, and the impact, both good and bad, that both cultures have on each other. The film allows the Piersons to be generally good, but flawed and occasionally naive people (Janet makes the usual comment that poverty doesn't matter because everyone looks so darned happy). It does not condemn them nor praise them. It is simply a slice of life, and that is at it should be. It is fun, it is entertaining, and it is slightly wiser than you'd expect. But it is not a groundbreaking work of art. The Piersons lives were unquestionably changed by their year in Fiji. But Real Paradise will not change your life.

Grade: B-

No comments:


Related Posts with Thumbnails