Paranoid Park *1/2
Directed by Gus van Sant
Written by Gus van Sant, based on the novel by Blake Nelson
Gabe Nevins as Alex
Daniel Liu as Detective Richard Lu
Taylor Momsen as Jennifer
Jake Miller as Jared
Lauren McKinney as Macy
Winfield Jackson as Christian
Joe Schweitzer as Paul
90 Minutes(Rated R for some disturbing images, language and sexual content. )
I'll start off by saying that Gus van Sant is probably my least favorite film maker currently living. But while I am not alone in this assessment, there are also people out there that find his work genius and moving. Well, I was to the point of hating "Elephant," and "Last Days," and I have come to expect nothing but tedium and boredom and snobbish film making from van Sant, and "Paranoid Park" is no exception. I am finding it harder and harder to get through Gus van Sant's movies-with the long tracking shots of people walking in "Elephant," to the long shots of a Kurt Cobain look-a-like playing music in "Last Days," and now we have this, which at least, thankfully, attempted to have some kind of a plot that I could care about. But van Sant just gets way too pretentious for my own taste, and while I was able to see where he was going with the whole "naturalistic" approach with acting and storytelling, I often found myself wanting to either rip my eyes out or leave the room. I did neither, and ended up sitting through the longest 85 minutes of my life.
Van Sant got most of his cast off MySpace-or so I read-and his main character Alex-played by Gabe Nevins-is a rather normal teenager. He doesn't seem rebellious, although we do get a mini-taste for his family. His parents seem to be separating, and they don't seem to mind him going out at all hours with his other skateboard friend. When him and his pal go to Paranoid Park-a nickname for a rather intense skate park in a bad part of town. A few days later at school the police come and round up all of the skater kids in the school, and ask them questions pertaining to the death of a security guard near Paranoid Park. Suddenly Alex begins to get worried-does he know more than he is letting on? And suddenly his life begins to unravel.
I think what happens when I watch Gus van Sant films is that I feel he is being obvious, but at the same time feeling like he is doing something for the first time. I saw it in "Elephant" and "Last Days" just through the overall stories, but I saw it here through some of the symbols-a scene where Alex takes a shower after a pivotal moment just made me roll my eyes, especially since van Sant lingered on the image for almost a full minute. The natural acting, or amateur acting depending on which way you look at, did not get to me the way I expected it too-and I thought that Gabe Nevins, and even his on-screen girlfriend played by Taylor Momsen-did a good job acting like they probably do in real life-him as the skateboarder trying to come to mental terms with an incident, and her as a rather ditzy schoolgirl. A post sex scene actually made me laugh out loud. But van Sant's attempt at naturalistic writing got to me-and an odd extended Subway sandwich dialogue had me lifting up my hands in frustration, and a scene where Alex's young brother recites dialogue from 'Napolean Dynamite" made me laugh, yes, but in an unbelievable way-as if I couldn't believe what I was watching. I did like how he did not make the teenagers out to be typical movie teens-they did not seem rebellious, the skateboarders were not painted out to be monsters-just normal kids who were doing what they loved-no disaster background was tacked on to give them reasons for doing this hobby.
The only thing that I seem to like from van Sant himself is his cinematography. He makes thing visually appealing, but I always find myself so distant from the story and characters, to an extreme level. The name "Paranoid Park" describes two things-the first is the actual park itself, and the second is a metaphor for what was happening in Alex's mind-he was on a level of paranoia from the incident. But it was just a rather obvious pretentious in-joke when Gus van Sant has one of his characters say to another "Nobody is ready for Paranoid Park." So if you look at this with a second meaning intact, I just continue to shake my head at how full of himself van Sant is. But other people seem to be getting something out of this movie, so while I did hate it and never wish to see it again, I'm hating it and recommending it, but only to those that get something out of his films. But if you are not a van Sant fan, than stay away.
IFC Films has their hands on this one, and I believe its getting a release in early March.
This screening was not a complete loss, though. Before the feature was a delightful short film from France called "No Part Of the Pig Was Wasted" directed by Emma Perret. This film had a small group of men, working away from home, who are tired of eating fish for dinner every night. So they pool their money together and invest in a piglet-planning to fatten the pig up, and then eat all of it. Until one of them change their minds. This was a very very funny and even rather sweet short film, and the sixteen dollars spent on the ticket was worth it for this film.