Let’s talk about Ashley Judd’s first starring role, 1993’s “Ruby in Paradise.” The film written, directed, and edited by Victor Nunez ("Gal Young 'Un," "A Flash of Green") won the Grand Jury Prize for Drama at the Sundance Film Festival and the late Roger Ebert picked the film as one of the Top 10 releases that year.
Ashley Judd was 24-years old when she was cast as Ruby Lee Gissing, a young girl looking to start a new life after her mother passes away. She moves from Tennessee to Panama City, Florida finding work at Chamber’s Beach Emporium, a mega souvenir shop owned by Mildred Chambers, played by the wonderful Dorothy Lyman who I loved watching on the “Carol Burnett Show” spinoff series “Mama’s Family” starring Vicki Lawrence — she played Mama’s daughter-in-law, Naomi.
It’s a coming of age story as Ruby transitions into a woman while learning about love and life. She befriends coworker Rochelle (Allison Dean from “Coming to America”) who is just working at the souvenir shop until she gets her college degree, and a couple of men enter Ruby's life including Mildred’s pampered son Ricky (Bentley Mitchum), a player who keeps a stack of portable cd players wrapped in red bows that he gives each conquest for those “lonely nights when we can’t be together.” Her other love interest is Mike (Todd Field) who works at a garden and pottery store. He’s humbler than Ricky but not a fan of feminism as he believes Ruby’s place is at home not the workplace and especially not in college when she considers going back to school.
Life in the “Redneck Riviera” is not very glamorous for Ruby who narrates the film while writing in her journal. When she’s not quoting Emily Dickinson, Judd’s soothing voice-over adds a surreal yet poetic tone to Nunez’s film, one that Terrence Malick dreams are made of.
“On the edge of the edge, a dream. Everyone I’d ever known was there. Living on a beautiful mountain, we all did our share. We all felt joy in being alive. Wild and free without harm without sorrow. Beyond reality, beyond fantasy, only there, only there.”
“Ruby in Paradise” features a remarkable debut by a then promising unknown named Ashley Judd. Presented in a new HD master, fully restored from the original camera rolls and audio tracks, the film looks and sounds better than ever. For many years it’s been off my radar but thanks to Quiver Distribution this wonderful gem has resurfaced and is now available via Virtual Cinema and to rent or own on various digital platforms.