The Other Side of Paradise -- Film Review

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A comically tinged road movie that represents quality regional filmmaking, "The Other Side of Paradise" displays enough talent in front of and behind the camera to compensate for its sluggish pacing and general air of familiarity. Playing an exclusive Manhattan engagement, Justin D. Hilliard's likable sophomore feature deserves wider exposure.

Anyone who has stumbled into a new relationship while still wrestling with the aftereffects of an old one will identify with the lead characters of Rose (Arianne Martin, who also co-scripted) and Alex (John Elliott), longtime best friends who are reunited when he crashes at her apartment after a European sojourn.

Clearly attracted to each other but hesitant to rush into anything, the two embark on a road trip to Austin, where photographer Rose is about to have her first gallery showing. Along the way, they make several detours, including picking up Rose's younger brother, Jamie (Frank Mosley), from prison and then visiting her father (Jodie Moore).

There, some rude surprises are in store. It turns out that he has a new, pregnant bride (a very funny Susana Gibb), a former exotic dancer who is three years younger than Rose. And Rose and Jamie's mother, who abandoned them years earlier, is not living overseas but rather just a few miles away.

Among the other figures the trio encounter along the way include a flirtatious bartender who reveals a much darker side, a creepy hotel manager, a hippie-hating redneck and a swinging couple with whom Jamie has a quick dalliance.

But the main story line centers on Rose and Alex's burgeoning relationship, which is nearly derailed when she becomes suspicious that he hasn't entirely separated from his ex.

Although the languidly paced film would definitely benefit from pruning, the director/co-writer displays a gift for incisive characterizations and all-too-realistically awkward dialogue that rings true. Another plus is the appealing performances by the three leads, who manage to invest their characterizations with intriguing elements of depth.

Opens: Friday, Dec. 18 (Striped Socks Prods.)
Cast: Arianne Martin, John Elliott, Frank Mosely, Jodie Moore, Susana Gibb, Sandra Looney, Drew Waters
Director-editor: Justin D. Hilliard
Producers-screenwriters: Justin D. Hilliard, Arianne Martin, Ryan Hartsell
Director of photography: Ryan Hartsell
Production/costume designer: Randi Frances Hilliard
Editors: Justin D. Hilliard, Daryl Leigh
No rating, 120 minutes