Movie Review: Pencil Factory brings a prodigal business-son back to have a try at “Saving Paradise”

Saving Paradise” is another old fashioned, sentimental take on work, workplaces and their value in an America that has ceded control of such things to Wall Street, and watched as Main Street paid the price.

Yes, thirty years after “Other People’s Money” — the play and then the film — and industries are still “shipping jobs overseas” leaving behind gutted factories, gutted towns and diminished lives in their wake.

It’s a cloying, cutesy and feel-good fable about the way these stories always grope around for a happy ending that an unsentimental America never seems to provide.

William Moseley (“The Courier,” TV’s “The Royals”) stars as Michael Peterson, the somewhat ruthless 30something Wall Streeter summoned home when his father dies.

The old man (Lawrence Pressman) was a beloved figure in tiny Paradise, Pennsylvania. He’s kept the last factory in town — Peterson’s Pencils — in business, employing a diverse workforce of older “lifers” and minorities including the differently-abled, giving rusting, foreclosing Paradise a pulse.

Now, he’s gone, the loan is due and that workforce is worried about their future and belligerently skeptical that this heir turned corporate raider has their best interests at heart.

Like nobody there’s ever seen “Gung Ho!”

The Van Billet script is strictly a cut-and-paste collection of cliches and “types.”

Christmas is coming, and their loan due-date will fall right on top of it, potentially putting people out of work for the holidays. The factory is antiquated. There’s little margin for profit selling the world pencils.

The late Mary Pat Gleason finished her career of loud, put-out Everywomen by playing mouthy plant manager Mary.

George Steeves is “on-the-spectrum” mail boy Walter, who can rattle off cascades of “facts” about pencils, and the factory’s productivity. Paul Dooley (“Breaking Away,” “Hairspray”) is his dotty, retired grandfather and Shashawnee Hall (“El Camino Christmas”) is the grumpy plant maintenance guy.

There’s a tarty office flirt (Valeria Maldonado), and of course, “Miss Right,” the “gal he left behind.” That would be the cute CFO Charlie (Johanna Braddy) who knew Michael when he was “Mikey” and hung out with him and his long-dead older brother, seen in flashbacks.

The debates between Michael and Charlie take on unnatural escalations as the script rushes them and us into crisis mode.

“It’s all about the BOTTOM LINE, isn’t it?”

“What other ‘line’ IS there?”

At some point, these two (cute together, and decent performers) are going to “click.” At some other point, somebody is certain to shout, “Go ahead, run away! IT’s your SPECIALTY!”

Seriously, screenplays like this aren’t so much composed as composted — recycled.

Director Jay Silverman (“Off the Menu,” “Girl on the Edge”) could have bent this edge-of-insipid story in a Hallmark Channel Christmas movie direction, fully capitalizing on all the sentiment. Instead he lets our leads, and a few others, pepper the tale with real world profanity.

As “Saving Paradise” is never more than a corny, old-fashioned working world wish fulfillment fantasy, that’s unfortunate. Maybe they’ll re-cut it when Hallmark asks.

Rating: unrated, alcohol abuse, some profanity

Cast: William Moseley, Johanna Braddy, Mimi Kennedy, Mary Pat Gleason,
Shashawnee Hall, Lawrence Pressman, Bill Cobbs and Paul Dooley

Credits: Directed by Jay Silverman, scripted by Van Billet. A Vertical release.

Running time: 1:41

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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