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Ganser Motivational Speaking from You Must Be New Here (self-released) Add to Collection
writte by Kyle Sanders
"We are our best when we are ourselves."
So says The Duchess, the flamboyant headmistress (played by Milla Jovovich doing her best "June Cleaver dressed as Effie Trinket") of the mysterious Paradise Hills, a school for the "not like other girls" girls. Yet this quote contradicts her maddening methods meant to help rebellious young women become the spitting image of perfection (or at least to disapproving families or impending husbands).
It's a quote the film should have listened to a bit more closely, as Paradise Hills does not seem to know its true self and therefore, is not quite the best its concept sets out to be.
The film opens with a sweeping bird's eye view shot of new bride Uma (Emma Roberts), serenading her husband with a song at their wedding reception. The film establishes the lavish world Uma lives in with the help of some impressively elaborate costumes and props (we see a floating car driving off from the festivities straight out of Back to the Future: Part II) but it's unclear if this is some sort of dystopian future or not-of-this-planet fantasy.
What is understood is that the beginning is actually the end, and we flash back two months prior: Uma waking up disheveled and dirt-ridden, slowly realizing she has been sent to a secluded compound called--you guessed it--Paradise Hills.
It's at Paradise Hills where she quickly falls into friendship with Chloe (Dumplin's Danielle Macdonald), a southern belle whose full-figured profile is an eye sore to her pageant-centric mother, and Yu (Awkwafina), a headphone-wearing outsider who suffers from panic attacks. She also crosses paths with pop star Amarna (Eiza Gonzalez), sent to Paradise Hills for an alcoholic problem that is really a front for her not-so-closeted-lesbianism.
As these outcast girls gradually begin to bond, their suspicions of what really goes on at Paradise Hills begins to increase. The reasons why they are there are never fully explained, and the "therapy" they undergo leans heavy on brainwashing rather than healing. They're given makeovers and provided scheduled yoga sessions, but what is meant to be the end result?
Eventually, they find out the truth, and the truth is...complicated? While this film has a distinct aesthetic, the plot just raises a lot of questions without a satisfying answer. It wants to be all sorts of things--part Hunger Games with a dash of Girl, Interrupted and just a pinch of Us for good measure--and ultimately winds up an unladylike mess.
Luckily, the performances of the female ensemble keep the dialogue semi-convincing, and the costumes and set design could rival anything from the worlds of Oz or Fantastica; however, looks only get you so far.
Still, for a feature debut of Spanish filmmaker Alice Waddington, the look is impressive. Paradise Hills could be worth watching with the sound muted, which is kind of ironic, because the film would prefer you to believe that there is more to these girls than just being pretty. Unfortunately, Paradise Hills is exactly that: pretty on the outside, but not much depth on the inside.
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