A wonderfully expressive character study exhibiting a thoughtfulness and concern for real life rare in American cinema, Ruby in Paradise rewards the care put into it and the patience it asks of audiences. After an eight-year layoff from filmmaking after A Flash of Green, Victor Nunez has returned with a film of gentle, intelligent qualities, vividly portraying a young woman’s inner life.
He is incalculably aided by the extraordinary central performance of Ashley Judd. Attractive, poised and possessed of a gravity that is immensely appealing, this new actress (the younger daughter of country singer Naomi Judd) manages to rivet one’s attention even when she is doing nothing.
Beginning by showing her escape from small-town Tennessee, tale lands Ruby in Panama Beach City, a tourist town on Florida’s ‘redneck Riviera.’ Ruby finds a job in a local souvenir shop owned by a businesslike woman whose good-looking but shallow son Ricky (Bentley Mitchum) ranks himself the local roue.
Ruby sleeps with him, but later develops a more meaningful romance with Mike (Todd Field), a smart biker who works in the local tree nursery. The two seem good together, but Ruby holds back.
There is always the possibility of condescension when sophisticated filmmakers take on working-class characters, but Ruby hits very close to the mark in evoking everyday life.