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"Welcome to Paradise" is a family film that, while long on values,
spreads the Good News through kindness between people versus
sermonizing on celluoid.
As a matter of fact, "Paradise" directly takes on those religious types to whom the Bible refers to a "stiff- necked people." Associate Pastor Debbie Laramie ("Wings" star Crystal Bernard) is in trouble at the top of the film for being too folksy in the pulpit. Her rigid male superiors exile her and her teenage son (well-played by Bobby Edner) to the small town of Paradise, which as it turns out, isn't. Just like in the big city, there are brittle, agenda-driven people in the small town. But without missing a beat, the new pastor jumps into the fray.
Bernard's Laramie is breezy and warm, and she does the Lord's work by being her open self, bringing people together one at a time. Bernard skillfully anchors the role with honesty. She carries the film on her feminine shoulders, making it look effortless.
The cast is studded with sure-handed veterans, led by film and stage luminary Brian Dennehy, who lends deep credibility to a film just by walking in front of the camera. It seems he never fumbles a beat as an actor. Ever.
Writer Shockley, who deftly pulls double duty playing the high school basketball coach, is a welcome masculine counterpart for Bernard. Though the film thankfully avoids making this an obvious love story, the chemistry between the two creates agreeable sparks.
"Paradise" ambitiously fleshes out a number of smaller roles with their own subplots, and enhances its own theme by creating an ensemble film. Lou Beatty, Jr. shimmers as the homeless Trevor Goodman and his singing throbs with contemplative power. Likewise, Beth Grant as the pivotal Frances Loren is believable and touching. Her character creates the havoc that eventually brings the town together. It's an inspirational finale that brings a lump to the throat and resolve to the heart.
There are a few snags in the story: for example, it stretches credulity that Laramie wouldn't know her son is dyslexic. She's presented as a character that's been busy, not selfishly blind; and some situations are hopelessly "on the nose." Luckily, the film unfolds briskly with a purpose that refuses to be derailed. Locations are attractive; the music enhances the story; the look of the film is rich.
There's a sense that "Paradise" is the real deal: a film about genuine caring between humans, made by quality professionals who truly care about humanity.
The Dove Foundation gave "Welcome to Paradise" a Four Dove Rating. The Religion Network seconds that!