As hard as it is for me to write, I think it might be time to call Victor Nunez’s RUBY IN PARADISE a Forgotten Film.
It is 2008 and, even with the career that star Ashley Judd has had, it has yet to be released on DVD. In the past year, RUBY has been shown on the Sundance Channel, but it went several years without any TV airings. I don’t know how many have heard of it, or remember it.
In some ways you can say RUBY IN PARADISE ruined me for other films. It is such a perfect film that I don’t know why there aren’t more like it.
Ashley Judd plays Ruby Lee Gissing who, in the opening scene, leaves her boyfriend in Tennessee and heads to the only place she knows, Panama City Florida, where she visited on vacations with her family.
There, she tries to set up a life for herself. She gets a job at a local gift store, selling trinkets to tourists. She likes it. She makes friends, including two guys (Bentley Mitchum, Todd Field).
Not much happens. There aren’t any shootouts. No explosions. Just life. It is a very simple film, yet perfectly realized. You really believe these characters are out there.
The film was widely acclaimed by critics. Ashley Judd won the Best Actress at the Independent Spirit Awards. The film also won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance. It made countless critics best of lists at the end of the year.
I saw the film in college while taking a screenwriting class. It had such an impact on me that I completely changed the topic of the screenplay I was writing. I went from a big action film to a small character piece with a lead character named Ashley. I still consider it one of my top five all time favorite films.
After the film, Ashley went on to stardom. I still believe this is her best film. Nothing she had done since has come close.
Victor Nunez’s follow up was ULEE’S GOLD, where Peter Fonda got an Oscar nomination. His most recent film, COASTLINES, which I loved and wrote about here, had a lot of trouble finding distribution but is now on DVD. He hasn’t made a film since.
Bentley Mitchum (grandson of Robert) continued to act, but not in anything at this level. He has done a lot of action films, the X rated Dana Plato film DIFFERENT STROKES: THE STORY OF JACK AND JILL AND JILL (really, actual title, it played cable with that title), and even a Bollywood film.
Todd Field continued to act but would make a turn to directing with IN THE BEDROOM and LITTLE CHILDREN. He has often cited Victor Nunez as being a big influence on his direction, and it shows in his down to earth style.
RUBY IN PARADISE was released to theatres by the now defunct October Films and released to VHS by the also gone Republic. It is now owned by Paramount. Since they are slow to release films to DVD, especially films they may not even be aware of owning, I’m not holding my breath.