Paranoid Park

Paranoid Park


Reviewed by: Chris

Paranoid Park isn't a real park. Or rather, it's a real skateboard park but the name is just made up by the kids there. It's the place where all the top skaters go. Alex is a good kid from the nice side of town. He skates a lot but doesn't know if he's really ready for Paranoid Park. That place is pretty intense. Alex borrows his mother's car but parks it on the opposite side of the river if he goes there. So it won't get damaged.

A policeman at the school is asking questions. A security guard has been found dead near the rail tracks. Maybe murder. The tracks run close to Paranoid Park. Did anyone see anything?

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There are many remarkable things about this unusual movie. Let starts with the acting and characterisation. Here director Gus Van Sant gives us characters that actors of many years' experience would be proud of. The kids in the movie don't have that - in fact most of them were recruited through MySpace. What we get though is a sense of their interior lives.

All the kids - Alex, his girlfriend Jennifer, most of their friends - come from a world where being a teenager is the reality. That means your hobbies and interests are the day-to-day world, goals for the future figure somewhere, and adults are pretty peripheral. Adults exist and perform certain functions but are not that interesting. The adults in the film (like those in Rebel Without a Cause) are fairly one-dimensional. But unlike most teen-pics, the children here do not seem angry, overly rebellious, or addicted to sex and drugs and rock 'n roll. Nor are they stupid. They are convincingly normal teenagers, very real. They could be your children.

The 'world' of skateboarding, or rather, Alex's mental narrative, is skilfully woven from the start. Not by boring the pants off us with long displays of skateboard skill, but rather by associational editing, soundscapes and inventive use of cameras and formats. We see and feel how this hobby, through the skaters' eyes, produces a high akin to drugs or music. By making Alex's perspective so real for us, his sparse lines throw us back on what he is thinking. We are closer to him than to the adults in his world. More like a sibling. More like someone who knows and believes you when you are honest and frank, and also stands next to you when you have your fingers crossed behind your back...

The soundscapes are made up of gentle, electronic, ambient sounds. A dreamy woman's voice whispers something in French. Cinematography is by Christopher Doyle (In The Mood For Love). The sun through blades of grass near the shore and we skip between Super 8 and 35mm, handheld cameras and stable frames. The ethereal and unreal become the bedrock of our world. Just as the basis of puberty is change. Adults can be sidelined in a way that stops just short of being contrived. When Alex is talking to his mother or father, they stay out of focus or out of frame for quite a long time into the conversation.

When the mystery is revealed it happens with operatic intensity, yet our emotion is held back until Alex can deal with it in his own way. The way the film evokes a moist eye from probably everyone in the theatre and suddenly stops will upset those wanting a more conventional structure. But it will still manage to satisfy far more people than might otherwise venture into such an art-based film.

As one of the characters says to Alex, "No-one's ever really ready for Paranoid Park."

Reviewed on: 25 Aug 2007
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A young skateboarder finds himself in trouble following the death of a security guard.
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Director: Gus Van Sant

Writer: Gus Van Sant, based on the novel by Blake Nelson.

Starring: Gabe Nevins, Daniel Liu, Taylor Momsen, Jake Miller, Lauren McKinney, Winfield Jackson, Joe Schweitzer

Year: 2007

Runtime: 85 minutes

Country: France, USA

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