By Anoushka Dalmia
BU News Service
“Paradise Hills” is an amusing watch and great to look at, but the film lacks the substance it needs to be the feminist fairy tale it aimed to be.
First and foremost, is a bizarre film. It looks like 18th century Europe, but with flying cars, extensive spa treatments, holographic jewelry and aggressively defined social classes called “uppers” and “lowers.”
The protagonist, Uma (Emma Roberts), wakes up to find herself in a strange place that feels as sinister as it appears stunning. She attempts to run, but realizes she’s on an island, albeit one with magnificent architecture and floral arrangements. When she demands to know where she is, the answer is, “you’re in paradise, of course.”
Paradise is, of course, a place where Uma and other girls are perfected to fit society’s definition of femininity. Uma befriends Chloe (Danielle Macdonald), Yu (Awkwafina), and Amarna (Eiza González) forming an odd and mismatched girl gang.
Under the guidance of The Duchess (Mila Jovovich), they are to become dainty and obedient women. The Duchess describes the island as a “center for holistic healing.” Uma calls it a “fascist boarding school.”
Uma is an “upper,” but her family is broke, which is why her mother has a wealthy and obnoxious man in mind for her to marry. Uma despises him and has been sent to Paradise Hills to change her mind. Instead, she becomes the object of Amarna’s affections, and finds herself feeling the same way.
For a fascist boarding school, however, it isn’t so bad. There are some irksome sessions to sit through like manipulative therapy with the Duchess where persuasive holographic videos must be watched on a mechanical horse. But the beauty routines and yoga seem pretty harmless.
The girls aren’t thrilled, but they enjoy the “vacation,” scoffing at the idea that this attempt to change them could work. That is, until Amarna realizes that secrets lurk beneath the glossy surface of this dreamland, and their attempt to escape it turns into a run for their lives.
The concept of the film isn’t revolutionary. It’s a run-of-the-mill commentary on societal standards for women, forcing them to look and behave in ways that are deemed “appropriate.” But there’s no attempt to delve deeper into the issue itself, only to use it as a plot-line.
The writing (coincidentally helmed by two men) is riddled with clichés that take the viewer out of the otherwise delightful visual affair. The editing feels botched, as if parts of the story were simply cut out. The costumes and sets are enchanting and on par with any live-action Disney film, but they can only do so much.
The film marks the debut of Spanish writer and director Alice Waddington, whose short film “Disco Inferno” screened in 63 international film festivals. “Paradise Hills” premiered at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year and is set to be released on Oct. 25, 2019.
Before the screening, the Associate Director of the Boston Women’s Film Festival, James A. Nadeau, said that it had been a controversial addition to the festival because “people either love it or hate it.” The film was co-presented by Wicked Queer, Boston’s LGBT film festival.