Her mother, Naomi, and sister Wynonna sing; Ashley Judd acts. Ruby in Paradise is only her first film, but she lights up the screen with uncommon talent and grace. There is nothing in Judd’s recurring TV roles on Sisters and Star Trek: The Next Generation to prepare you for the depth and radiance she brings to her portrayal of Ruby Lee Gissing. Down from the hills of Tennessee, Ruby is trying to scrounge out a living and maybe even a life on the “Redneck Riviera” of Panama City, Fla. She gets hired to sell souvenirs in a gift shop owned by Mildred Chambers (the sassy Dorothy Lyman). Mildred has a rule: Make no moves on her studly son Ricky, played by Robert Mitchum’s studly grandson Bentley. Ruby complies; Ricky doesn’t.
Writer-director Victor Nunez (Gal Young ‘Un, A Flash of Green) is a Floridian who knows the rhythms of his state’s less-traveled corners. His style is as un-Hollywood as a lazy breeze off the beach and just as refreshing. Ruby finds and loses jobs, friends and lovers. But in trying to get a fix on her destiny, she strikes a universal chord. Nunez is a major filmmaker who thrives working in a minor key. He makes Ruby a romantic fable with a tough core of intelligence and wit. It’s a real beauty.