In Justin D. Hilliard’s wry, microbudgeted road movie, “The Other Side of Paradise,” two longtime friends navigate an awkward plunge into sexual intimacy while driving across Texas with a just-released ex-con brother in tow. Chronicling the couple’s one-on-one relationship issues and roadway encounters of the eccentric and downright traumatic kind, the pic shifts tonal gears with ease, its trio of lead thesps registering realistically if not always engagingly. After a brief Gotham run, this “Paradise” (global recession has certainly spawned a plethora of sardonically titled “paradises” this year) should coast into a cable run.
Rose (Arianne Martin) collects Alex (John Elliott) at the Dallas airport as he returns from Spain. They have been good friends for years, much to the suspicion and dismay of their respective significant others, who now are finally history. Gingerly feeling their way through the charged atmosphere of suddenly feasible sexuality, they head for Austin, where a gallery is hosting a show of Rose’s photographs.
En route, they pick up Rose’s brother Jamie (Frank Mosley) upon his release from prison, then drive to meet the siblings’ dad (Jodie Moore) and his young, very perky, very pregnant new wife (Susana Gibb).
Obeying some cinematic equivalent of Newton’s law, for every movement forward toward the future, the journey takes an equal and opposite movement backward toward the past. No sooner do Rose and Jamie meet their new stepmother than they accidentally discover the whereabouts of their long-absent real mother, occasioning a detour as devastating as the first familial side-trip was comic. Similarly, no sooner do Rose and Alex finally sleep together than Alex’s ex pops up to gum up the works.
Hilliard displays no particular affinity for the rhythms of the road, per se; rather, the car’s jerky stops and starts are synched to the characters’ personal itineraries. The pic’s success rests on the strengths and weaknesses of its players — two of whom, Frank Mosley and Arianne Martin (Hilliard’s wife and co-scripter), appeared in the helmer’s infinitely more somber debut, “Wednesday” (lenser/co-writer/producer Ryan Hartsell was also part of that indie team).
Martin’s Rose proves more sympathetic in dramatic meltdown than in flirty romantic comedy, her somewhat shrill rendition of a free spirit only partially justified by the script’s built-in tensions; Elliott pulls off his writer character’s salient quality — a genius for spinning tall tales — with panache. Meanwhile, Mosley seemingly channels Stanley Tucci in providing his unsmiling, shaven-headed character with a potent dose of sexual chutzpah.
Tech credits are appropriately bare-bones.