Saving Paradise will deliver a familiar feeling to anyone who has ever watched a Lifetime movie from the 90s. The old-fashioned style, schmaltzy delivery, and cheesy, feel-good vibes will brighten any day. The film was formerly titled Pencil Town, which given the content seems to fit the movie and the tone much better. Love it or hate it, Saving Paradise is based on true events, and its product is pretty much exactly what its selling you right on the tin.
After Don (Lawrence Pressman), the president of the pencil company, passes away from an unexpected heart attack, his ruthless corporate son Michael (hunky The Royals and The Chronicles of Narnia star William Moseley) is forced to return home. Michael becomes the unlikely heir to his father’s 100-year-old pencil factory, one which teeters on the edge of bankruptcy. Michael has not been home for about ten years, and upon his reappearance, he instantly makes enemies within the town. He clashes with CFO Charlie (Johanna Braddyn from horror sequels The Collection and Paranormal Activity 3) at first, despite a simmering romantic fling. He tries to win over the locals, but the entire company rallies against his distant corporate mindset. A 90-day bank loan notice looms large. Michael must decide whether it is in his best interest to sell off the company or fight for its survival.
Things play out almost exactly as one would expect them to, and cocky Michael learns all those important life lessons you can feel being methodically checked off. His backstory has a surprising amount of depth, thanks to the accidental death of his older brother, DJ, from years earlier. Flashes of this mysterious event linger forebodingly in the first half, before being expanded as the film progresses. Michael remains haunted by his past and carries the guilt with him, acted with depth by William Moseley. The townspeople are mostly just stereotypes, but I enjoyed hearing an introverted local named Walter (George Steeves) spout his random pencil factoids. His relationship with Michael, catapulted into motion by a bowling game where Michael shares that his “hood is Upper East Side Manhattan,” has more chemistry than Michael’s relationship with Charlie.
If one manage their expectations, Saving Paradise is probably a quaint, enjoyable film. The script from Van Billet is dated, but delightful. It is an old-fashioned and inspirational drama that we have seen hundreds of times before, with a warm embrace sliding into place just as easily as a dull pencil into a sharpener.
Saving Paradise releases in theaters and on VOD September 3rd, from Jay Silverman Productions and Vertical Entertainment.