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I want you to take a close look at the "starring" line above. It is not often that you will see such a terrific collection of talent. Topping the list for Bruce Beresford's Paradise Road are multiple Oscar® nominees, one with the gold fresh in her hand; multiple Tony award winners; an Emmy winner and faces you'll recognize from the better dramas on PBS. It is not often that you will see such a terrific set of performances, all delivered well and totally in balance with each other.
Which is a problem for Cranky, and it is a very small problem. Though the facts of the story, of WWII women refugees from Singapore captured and imprisoned by the Japanese on the island of Sumatra, are true, the story itself has been put together from whole cloth. Let's do a quick review and I'll tell you why I am not out and out raving about the film, beautifully constructed by writer/director Bruce Beresford.
The women who fled were mainly English and Australian, of various classes -- pushed to the extreme as a particular English thing. They were imprisoned with Dutch women, whom none of the English speakers cared for; one German Jew (Francis McDormand) and one American (Julianna Margulies). Believing that the war would end almost immediately, they kept to themselves and sniped at each other. As the war dragged on, faced with brutal treatment by their captors, the women broke through the boundaries and rules in a very clever way. They formed a chorus, and hummed very intricate arrangements of classical music pieces. It is the one violation of the rules that the Japanese soldiers tolerated, so moved were they by the performances. That much is true and that story should have made a dynamite film.
The problem is that everything is so well balanced that no role stands out enough to rivet our attention. Glenn Close and Pauline Collins, as the elements that formed the chorus stand out but by not nearly enough. Cranky found himself surprised that when the one character that he had been waiting to die finally did, he was moved. Yes, the treatment of the women was brutal. Yes, Beresford's script shows that there were sympathetic aspects to those same brutes. But I felt no relief when the war ended and the women jumped for joy, and I felt no emotional connection to the situations.
Quite frankly, I expected to. In that I didn't, at least for me, the movie fails.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Paradise Road, he would have paid . . .
I thought long and hard about that number -- more so than I usually have to. Do I hold "films" to a different standard than "movies"? Yep, and I've written about that before. Movies are allowed to push buttons. Films have to build solid stories, deliver solid performances and make everything build bigger than the sum of its parts. Two out of three ain't bad. If you're not as cranky about this as I, add Two Bucks.
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