“Paradise Grove”, which is also the name of the retirement home where the action takes place, is a quirky little film that has some interesting points to make about the brief bit of time we all have on this planet.
Our narrator, Keith (O’Brien, making his debut) is an attendant at Paradise Grove. He’s in his early twenties. He is half jewish, half black. His mother (Lenska) runs the home and despairs of her son because he has no ambition. His grandfather (Moody) is about to turn eighty and can’t decide if he likes the kid or not. The fact that he is half black and uncircumcised may be a little more than he can forgive.
Keith is a good kid. He is studying Hebrew, and he makes a sacrifice in the movie that will have the men, at least, groaning and squirming. All he wants to do is stay at the Grove and take care of the old people…or so he says.
One day, a beautiful young girl arrives, looking for work. Her name is Kim (Blakemore). Keith takes a shine to her, and puts her to work as an assistant. What he doesn’t know is that Kim has a gun in her backpack, and is running away from someone dangerous. They start a tentative romance, even though she warns him that one day she will vanish.
A crisis: the grandfather, a hale and hearty man, begins the arduous and embarrassing task of dying. He falls down. He begins to lose control of his bodily functions, and has to wear a rubber diaper. For him, this is the final straw. He’d rather die than lose control. He begs his grandson to kill him.
This is the point where the film, which has been rather whimsical and cheery, makes an abrupt serious turn. Assisted suicide is a touchy issue, especially when the victim is elderly. Writer/director Harris never missteps, though, and the conclusion is well thought out and sadly satisfying.
“Grove” has won a slew of awards from festivals around the world (Raindance, Palm Springs Festival, etc) and the kudos are well deserved. The script by Harris is literate and real; there isn’t a line that rings sour.
The fine ensemble cast, which includes the invaluable character actor Ron Moody, seems to be living the parts. Everyone does exceptionally well, particularly Lenska as the cold and unforgiving mother. I’ve never seen the former pitchwoman act before (she is best known for her commercials in the 1970’s, where she pretended to be recognizable, but wasn’t) but judging from the work on display here she is an underused talent. A good example is a scene where she matter of factly tells Kim that she should sleep with her son, that it would be a good diversion for him. Just listen to the way she says her lines; like a doctor giving a prescription.
O’Brien and Blakemore, as the two young lovers, aren’t as sympathetic as the older people in the cast, but that’s alright; you get the sense that they have their whole lives to find their voices, while the others are making their last curtain calls.