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IN SHORT: For some, Paradise is Hell. Not for Cranky. [101 minutes, Rated [R] ]
I've written about "serious" films before; Films that take as a starting point the seamier and unpleasant sides of life and which then drop lifelike characters, and their concerns, into them. From the comfort of your seat, protected by the tub of popcorn and extra-large refillable soda, you get to slum in safety. You don't have to feel sympathy for the characters you see on the big screen, sometimes a smug sense of superiority will do. Wading through a world of petty thievery, gun dealing and dope shooting, Larry Clark's Another Day In Paradise fills the bill nicely.
Not that I have much sympathy whatsoever for a bunch of junkie, petty criminals. Clark allows you to intrude on the lives of two generations of them in this movie, with hand-held camera work that keeps their struggle right in your face.
Bobbie (Vincent Kartheiser) and Rosie (Natasha Gregson Wagner) are the youngsters. Runaway Teens. Quietly desperate. Living in a dump, busting into vending machines for a living; Only love keeps them together. As the film begins, the hand to mouth existence they live comes to a dead end as a security guard's nightstick comes down on Bobbie's head. The kid fights back. The subsequent brutal encounter leaves the guard bleeding to death on the floor and an injured Bobbie writhing in pain on his girfriend's bed. He can't go to a hospital because that would bring the police into the picture. So Rosie calls her "uncle" Mel (James Woods) for help. Thus begins a no return journey into the dark world of Mel and his love, Sid (Melanie Griffith). A world of drug dealing, petty theft and gun running aka runaway teens, twenty or thirty years on.
Sid and Mel, essentially, adopt Bobbie and Rosie. They feed 'em. They clothe 'em. They get 'em hooked on dope. Mel includes Bobbie in his schemes, passputting them to work. It's about as functional a family unit as you can get in the twilight zone. The closer they get to each other, the deeper they sink down into the muck. As grim and as desperate as their situations get, there are glimmers of humor and goodness, especially in Griffith's performance, that keep you grounded and involve.
In Cranky language, you don't get bored. When bad things happen to these not-so-good people, you are not too numb to react.
Another Day In Paradise may not have a huge story to tell, but the characters and the performances of the actors involved are tremendous. James Woods, as Papa Bear figure, walks the fine line between emotional desperation and pathological violence. Only his woman, and their occasional use of a illegal substances, keeps him calm. Mama Bear Griffith protects with one hand and destroys with the other. The biggest surprise is an uncredited Lou Diamond Phillips as Jewel, a homosexual gang leader whose involvement towards the end of the story pushes the characters in directions that, while inevitable, are too grim to contemplate. Some anti-defamation group will bitch about the role, but Phillips is downright scarey. As he is supposed to be.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Another Day In Paradise, he would have paid . . .
Serious flicks get rated more severely at Oscar time, otherwise Another Day In Paradise would have topped out at the $6.00 recommended mark. This ain't no date flick. It is a connection with a seamier side of life that is easier to understand.
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