Indie Film Guru Takes Family, Neuroses to Fiji

Details

Reel Paradise
Directed by Steve James
Wellspring, opens August 17, IFC Center

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  • When indie film guru John Pierson—of Spike, Mike, Slackers & Dykes fame—temporarily moved his wife and teenage son and daughter to a remote Fijian isle so he could operate its rural 180 Meridian Cinema, he convinced his old pal Steve James (Hoop Dreams) to visit for a month and document the culture clash. Unfortunately, what could have been a superficially amusing IFC reality series was stretched into a thin, overlong feature that follows the rocky integration of this very New York clan into a somewhat ruffled island society. In the quest for narrative conflict, the Piersons are portrayed at their worst. John becomes a Manhattan-style control freak with an underlying missionary complex and its concomitant condescending attitude. His kids—paradoxically the film's saving grace and its most grating element—are shrill, persistent back-talkers, born a decade too early, sadly, for Nanny 911, but adept at yanking dad's chain. ("Independent films are boring," opines the vociferous Wyatt, age 13.) The Fijians play shy sidekicks, talking-head commentators, or foils to John's type-A outbursts. The irony is that this doc could have used the sociological insights of a Spike Lee or the intelligent, region-specific pacing of a Richard Linklater, both Pierson alums; what it got instead was the underachieving pop-damage befitting its producer, Kevin Smith, topped off with a movie nerd title that could have been stolen from the moniker of a D-level film festival.
     
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