A former co-worker of mine once tried telling me, with all seriousness, that it would actually be “kind of fun” to be homeless if you happened to live in a warmer climate...
...“I mean, think about it” she said to me as my jaw slowly dropped to the floor. “You would be so free! You wouldn’t have to pay rent, wouldn’t have any commitments, wouldn’t have to waste your life working a job you didn’t like.” Perhaps sensing my astonishment and disapproval at what she was saying (I’ve never had a great poker face) she immediately became defensive, said something along the lines of “thanks for being so judgemental,” and abruptly walked away. It was one of the strangest examples of obliviousness to one’s privilege I’d ever seen.
That moment leapt back to me about ten minutes into Paradise Cove, the new film from director Martin Guigui (9/11, The Unhealer) and writer Sherry Klein (Ever After High, Star Trek: Voyager). It’s essentially a thriller of the kind you would usually find on the Lifetime channel, which for certain people (like this humble reviewer) would normally make it a delight to watch. Unfortunately, the way it feeds into and perpetuates stereotypes about the homeless and mentally ill while also trying to act as a sort of morality tale regarding the struggles those individuals experience takes away much of the trashy fun that typically comes with these types of cheesy nail-biters.
Looking to renovate and resell his deceased mother’s Malibu beach house, Knox Bennet (Todd Grinnell) and his wife Tracey (Mena Suvari) realize they may have bitten off more than they can chew when they find out that a local homeless woman named Bree (Kristin Bauer van Straten) is currently living underneath their home. It turns out she was the owner until it was foreclosed by the bank and Knox’s mom swooped in to claim the property. Now, growing more and more unhinged by the day, Bree refuses to leave what she believes to be rightfully hers and begins to terrorize the young house-flippers.
Now, it’s true that nobody watches a Lifetime thriller looking for an empathetic or nuanced handling of real-world problems like mental illness or homelessness, and railing against Paradise Cove for being insensitive in this area would be like criticizing a John Waters film for being tasteless. But the difference between the two is that Waters revels in his filthiness (raises it to the level of high art, in fact) while this film takes itself a little too seriously. It attempts at several points to beat the audience over the head with a moral (“the homeless are people too, you know!”) that it then goes completely against in its stereotypical depictions of those individuals. Don’t go out of your way to look like you’re taking an ethical high road when you’re only going to pay it lip service.
What’s most frustrating about this hypocrisy (other than the obvious) is that it completely takes away from a film that could have otherwise been a campy good time. It’s got everything: explosively fun overacting (see Bauer van Straten, who steals absolutely every scene she’s in), celebrity lookalikes (Grinnell could easily play Paul Rudd at parties or mall openings), kinky weirdness (there’s a shower-based handjob scene that made me do a legit spit-take), and a total lack of logic at times that was downright intoxicating. But for every delicious bit of cheese we’re served, a second course of half-assed social commentary comes in its wake, and suddenly you don’t feel much like laughing.
Very early on in the film, Knox (whose name I still can’t get over) and Tracey encounter a down-on-his-luck war vet who approaches their car while they’re stopped at a red light. The husband slips the man a five dollar bill, flashes him a “gee, aren’t I great” smile, and wishes him luck. As they drive away, Tracey, marveling at the Malibu scenery flowing past her car window, says, “nice place to be homeless.” It’s obviously meant to be an illustration of the couple’s inability to understand the very real and very difficult circumstances experienced by those unlucky enough to not have a roof over their heads, but it could just as easily represent Paradise Cove’s own ignorance. It attempts to have depth but can’t make it past the shallows.
Paradise Cove comes to VOD from Quiver Distribution on February 12th.
By Pat Brennan
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