Recently, music video short films have blossomed in quality. Take Beyoncé’s “Lemonade” visual album or her protégés, Chloe x Halle, and their video for “The Kids Are Alright.” These short films mix strong music with striking visuals, combining different artforms to create an elevated final product. Netflix’s new film “Paradox” does not meet this new standard. Not even a little. In her directorial debut, Daryl Hannah (“Kill Bill”) teams up with musician Neil Young to make, as she puts it, a “more pot than plot” film. Let’s just say, the influences of medicinals are present.
If I didn’t know any better, I would assume “Paradox” was actually a student-made parody of a Neil Young music video. It’s that bad. Where to start? The majority of the film follows men dressed in shabby costumes, improvising lines people would only find funny after a concentrated dose of THC. These men are Neil Young and his backup band Promise of the Real. The legendary Willie Nelson also makes a brief appearance. In other words, these are all amateur actors. At times, I wondered if the cameraman forgot he hit record since the feet of the actors often made unexplained cameos. Then there were the poorly timed, unfortunate angles that captured many crotch shots and rear ends all in horribly lit scenes. It’s a shame some of the most well-lit moments included watching a man take a piss in the woods. What was the relevance of this moment to the film? Absolutely nothing.
The cinematographer of “Paradox” also decided to switch nonsensically from digital to 16mm. The scenes shot on film must have been an attempt to appear alternative and hipster. This need for a vintage vibe might explain the long time lapses of clouds and the Northern lights. I can’t help but wish the filmmakers had spent less time switching cameras and more time planning the point of the film. Instead, “Paradox” boils down to a bored musician’s attempt to satisfy a desire to be on camera. For fans of Neil Young’s music, never watch this film. Not even the trailer. “Paradox” will ruin his music forever. The rich vocals, instrumentals and behind-the-scenes shots of Young rehearsing are the only bright side of the film. However, those songs have been around for quite some time, and this just might ruin their legacy.
The only part of “Paradox” worth watching is when the musicians gather around the campfire to sing Willie Nelson’s song “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground.” Promise of the Real, a band led by Nelson’s sons Lukas and Micah, play an acoustic, soulful cover with bongos, a double bass (because cowboys on the run carry 30-pound instruments) and various guitars. The camera pans around the musicians and the microphone rings with the crackle of sparks from the fire. This serene and breathtaking moment should have been the template for the whole film. If “Paradox” were structured as a concert film with occasional, silent flashes of Western scenes, it would thrive. However, this is not the case. In the end, the ghastly visuals eviscerate the tenderness and rawness of the music. Anything wonderful about the campfire sequence is forgotten when the following scenes include someone watching a magnified caterpillar crawl by — greeting it with a “Hey there, big fellow” — before proceeding to take a dump with his buddy in an outhouse. But hey, give the filmmakers credit for shooting the outhouse from several angles and on film; nothing screams dreamy and nostalgic than two grown men having a conversation while on the can. If I were Neil Young, I would buy back the rights to “Paradox” from Netflix and bury the footage where no one would ever find it.