Hurt By Paradise: Review. By Thomas White.
Single mother Celeste Blackwood and her soulmate Stella Mansell are two friends living in London, each pursuing their respective artistic careers as a poet and actress. Over time their dreams become ever more elusive.
Writer/director Greta Bellamacina’s feature debut shows a warm spirit and has, at its core, a lot of heart. However, it is let down in a number of ways. For example, in the rather signposted expositional moments where the various relationship dynamics between Celeste and her family and friends are explored, these scenes often appear stagey and forced, suffering from clunky acting and stodgy dialogue. In doing so it reduces them to basic character stereotypes, simply servicing the plot, as opposed to more fully-rounded individuals whose lives we are genuinely interested in following.
The scenes which work best are the ones which play on the film’s more humorous moments, well observed comic situations based around awkwardness and absurdity, with desperation and discomfort providing the comedy in a satisfyingly deadpan, toe-curling manner. Her meeting with a publishing agent; Stella’s acting audition; a disastrous restaurant date etc. It’s the well observed subtle mannerisms and nuance which make the comedy work.
Bellamacina herself plays Celeste, the single mother with aspirations of having her poetry published, and who I felt could have shown a bit more grit and determination in her precarious hand to mouth lifestyle.
More appealing was her somewhat put-upon friend Stella, played by Sadie Brown, who brought credibility to the character, making her very likeable and easy to watch. A happy-go-lucky extrovert, there was no side to her, and it was through this openness that we got to see her sensitive side, which was quite delightful.
Indeed, perhaps the most tender of the narrative’s numerous romantic dealings was the unseen online relationship between Stella and her ‘mystery man’ at the other end of her upgraded ‘serious wi-fi connection’ (a running gag mirroring their wireless courtship). Their involvement, developed and nurtured over time and distance, holds the same amount of feeling, hope and excitement as any real life romance would have, with a poignant touch of desperation as well.
Similarly the best performances come out during the scenes of cringe-worthy dry comedy previously mentioned. A single look, a glance or a well timed pause, these these things rang true more than an overwritten or poorly delivered line. Bellamacina paces these scenes with more confidence and naturalism, which is where her real strength clearly lies, creating embarrassing situations we can all relate to.
Sadly the rest of the film has a tendency to dip in between these moments, which are few and far between. The overall tone feels noncommittal, not quite managing to integrate the comedy with straight drama. Frustratingly it leaves us hanging somewhere in the middle.
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