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Paradise Review

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Willard, (Wood) is packed off to stay with Lily (Griffith) for the summer so he doesn't have to witness the problem in his own home. Instead he stays with Lily and her husband, Ben (Johnson) who have their own share of problems and meets the girl-next-door (Birch) and the two become firm friends.

★★★★★

It comes as no surprise that the directorial debut of the screenwriter who wrote Beaches should be a multiple-hanky affair. And it may have an outcome that suggests itself faster than it takes to make a dent in the popcorn. But this is a pleasing, tender tale of love, estrangement and reconciliation, notable for two pairs of attractive performances: those of then real-life husband and wife Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith and engaging children Elijah Wood and Thora Birch.

Wood — the young Barry Levinson alter ego in Avalon — is Willard, a lonely boy sent away from trouble at home for a summer with his mother’s old friend Lily (Griffith) in sleepy small town Paradise. Fresh-faced country girl Lily and bad tempered husband Ben (Johnson) are cold and distant, driven apart by their own family tragedy. Naturally, their growing affection for the wistful little chap rekindles their flame from the ashes of regret and recrimination while the tomboy next door (Birch) introduces Willard to the joys of summer buddydom.

There’s the essential amount of male-bonding — Ben initiating the boy in fishing — and it’s all very nicely done. Johnson, an underrated film actor, is genuinely moving as he reveals his sardonic s.o.b’s well-hidden heart, and Griffith’s gentle, dazed picture of repressed pain is affecting, their on-screen rightness a fitting by-product of their own progress from bad boy and wild child to a couple with quite some history together. Sentimental it certainly is, but rather lovely and satisfactory all the same.

This is a film with good performances all round. Then couple Griffith and Johnson are all loved up and Wood and Birch demonstrate why they are still finding work. The plot is a little over sentimental, but on the whole it's a pleasant way to spend an hour and a half.