October 07, 1991 12:00 PM

Don Johnson, Melanie Griffith

Paradise is a rural South Carolina fishing village where the men wear baseball caps and the women hang the wash on the line. As such, it seems an unlikely setting for the first film trendy renewlyweds Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith have made together. Yet here they are as a couple leading benumbed lives in mutual isolation. Griffith portrays a mother who can’t recover from her child’s death; Johnson is the husband who can’t help her. Into their lives comes a shy 10-year-old (Elijah Wood), dispatched from the city by his pregnant mom, an old friend of Griffith’s. Even as he finds his first real pal next door (Thora Birch), the boy takes on the daunting task of getting the grown-ups to face each other across their gulf of pain.

With this adaptation of Jean-Loup Hubert’s 1987 film he Grand Chemin, screenwriter Mary Agnes (Beaches) Donoghue makes her directorial debut. No mean challenge, this: to get audiences to accept the supremely stylish Johnson and Griffith as benighted country folk. It shouldn’t be surprising (but it is) that the film works rather nicely. Their public personas aside, Johnson and Griffith are a talented pair and plainly took on this project to prove the point. Griffith is sublimely beautiful without her urban shellac; she turns nature’s own lines beneath her eyes into a faint mask of maternal anguish. Johnson plays it rugged but right: He gives the film the unsentimental edge it needs. In the end they make Paradise a place where the wounds of separation are gently annealed—about all we can ask of paradise these days. (PG-13)

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