Ruby in Paradise is set in Panama City Beach, a tourist spot on Florida's "redneck Riviera." Ruby arrives in town thankful for having escaped from rural Tennessee "without getting pregnant or beat up." Even though it is off-season, she finds work in a souvenir shop run by Mildred Chambers, an enterprising businesswoman.
Ruby, who was raised in a fundamentalist Christian home, is trying to move beyond a life built upon guilt and shame. She makes friends with Rochelle, a fellow employee who is trying to lift her career sights. She tells Ruby that the most important thing is "to survive with your soul intact."
In her journal, Ruby monitors her feelings and actions. She's not sure why she slept with the store owner's playboy son or why she's not more interested in Mike, a plant store clerk who is a good listener and a sensitive lover. Ruby's soul is tested through a series of setbacks which help her clarify that the work she is doing is a calling and not just a job.
Ruby in Paradise is one of the best films of 1993. Writer and director Victor Nunez focuses on this sensitive woman's inner life as she ponders the meaning of care, desire, loneliness, fear, intimacy, independence, and love. As Ruby, Ashley Judd, the younger daughter of country singer Naomi Judd, comes up with one of the freshest and finest performances of the year. Like the maid from India who works at her apartment complex, she's discovered a new world and is determined to compose a worthwhile life on her own terms.
Ruby's soul work in her diary and in her relationships with others is inspiring and edifying. By the end of the film, she is proud of who she is. Having found fulfillment in her work, Ruby is eager to meet the challenges which lie ahead.