Ruby in Paradise
1993 Directed by Victor Nunez. Starring Ashley Judd, Todd Field, Bentley Mitchum, Alison Dean, Dorothy Lyman.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Feb. 4, 1994
Ruby in paradise. Ruby in Florida. Ruby out of the hills of Tennessee. Ruby adrift in the Sunshine State. Ashley Judd (daughter of Naomi, sister of Wynona) stars as Ruby Lee Gising in this quiet little movie that stays with you long after the movie is over. A character portrait of both Ruby and her coastal Florida panhandle environment, Ruby in Paradise has an amazing presence. Its realism, in large measure, is due to Judd's much-acclaimed performance as Ruby, a young woman just out of the starting gate and pointed on a path of self-discovery. Ruby's sense of herself is marginal and diffuse but strong enough to recognize that she is capable of more. So far, her greatest accomplishment in life has been, as she says, getting out of Tennessee without getting pregnant or beat up. The movie indeed begins with Ruby's car peeling out from park as her Tennessee boyfriend hollers after her in the rearview mirror. Ruby doesn't stop 'til she crosses the state line and comes to rest on the north coast of Florida. Although it's the off-season, she talks her way into a salesclerk job in a beachfront emporium run by Dorothy Lyman (the original Opal Gardner on All My Children), who clearly doesn't need the extra help but feels some kind of connection to the girl. Ruby also begins a journal upon her arrival in an effort to discover why she ran and how she came to where she is. The rest of the movie focuses on Ruby's relationships with various people: another store clerk going to college, Lyman's randy son and heir apparent, a disillusioned young man with whom she bonds, the people in the motor court where she's staying. The movie's main characteristic is (and I can think of no other way to say this) its sense of here-ness. Director Nunez, whose previous films (Gal Young 'Un, A Flash of Green) are also set in Florida, has an ability to translate states of mind into their native environments and vice versa. In this instance, his regional realism combines with Judd's transfixing performance to create a movie that sticks to your ribs.