Searching for Paradise
directed by Myra Paci
(Luxmundi, 2002)

Gilda Mattei has graduated from high school, surrounded by friends who are heading to Vassar or traveling the world.

But for a girl on the cusp of breaking away, Gilda's tied down by virtually every area of her life. She's tied to her beloved father by his illness and impending death, to her mother by the burden of caring for her father.

But she's also tied to an obsession with Michael De Santis, a Hollywood actor whose televised interview Gilda tapes and watches again and again.

When her father dies and Gilda cannot find a way to cope, she flees to her grandparents' home in New York City. Her father's passing has unleashed his secrets, and Gilda's love for him fights against her illusions.

Searching for Paradise won a best actress award at the Milan International Film Festival for Susan May Pratt, whose Gilda is a turmoil of intelligence, emotion and desperate bravado. And it is her performance which shines through some obvious moments of pop psychology, giving Searching for Paradise a sometimes painful, ultimately hopeful center.

Much of the movie's success rests on Pratt's ability to help us care for a young woman who is by turns bold and capricious. Writer/director Myra Paci has captured an age when many people still are searching for what they want to do, who they want to be. Add into it the inevitable disillusionment when people you love fall off their pedestals, and it's a shaky time. Together, Paci and Pratt have given us a character who's more honest both in her elation and anger than many roles written for teenagers.

And much of the movie's success also rests on the object of Gilda's obsession, De Santis (Chris Noth). When she finagles a meeting with him under some pretty bogus pretenses, De Santis's reputation as an avowed womanizer has to be tempered by something vulnerable -- otherwise, he's just a caricature. Noth makes the most of both sides, unabashedly pushing pot on Gilda once she agrees to have dinner with him, but recognizing, when she loses her emotional balance, just why she's really there.

She's not always pleasant to be around, she's rarely rational, she treats people cruelly -- in short, Gilda's how all of us can be during times of huge strain or transition. But coming of age isn't always the easiest path, and Searching for Paradise isn't always the easiest movie: Its main character is by turns spoiled, generous, gracious and vengeful.

As a look at what maneuvering along that path can be, though, Searching for Paradise is full of lessons we sometimes just have to learn for ourselves.

- Rambles
written by Jen Kopf
published 12 June 2004

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