Paranoid Park Reviews
Gabe Nevins is Alex, a 16 year-old skateboarder who is a mostly decent and intelligent kid. Yeah, his parents are on the verge of getting a divorce, but it could be worse. He's got a cute girlfriend, despite their not being much of a connection between them, and he's also got another cute girl who is his confidante.
His life definitely spirals downhill when a run-in with a security guard results in a grisly, though accidental death. Now in a state of panic, confusion, and guilt, Alex tries his best to deal with the consequences and guilt of youthful recklessness.
I really liked this. It's not quite as ponderous or hard to get through as some of the entries in the aforementioned "Death Trilogy", but it's just artsy and indie enough to still let Van Sant retain some credibility with the non-mainstream crowd.
The film is all about tone, and is a deliberate look at the pains of being a teen. Gabe Nevins is great here. This was his first role, and he's a natural. I hope this doesn't end up being his only foray into cinema, as he's got a high level of naturalism and pathos. The only person who was known before this is Taylor Momsen as Alex's girlfriend Jennifer. She's not bad, and easily sheds the skin leftover from The Grinch, but even if she's decent, she's overshadowed by Nevins, or Lauren McKinney as Macy- Alex's BFF and confidante. I would love to see more from McKinney. Another highlight is Dan Liu as the suspicious detective investigating the case. He's a toughie, but also balanced. He might be authoritative, but he's fair, too.
The film is very well shot, and evokes an appropriately dreary mood to match the proceedings. There's also some slow-mo, which, as good as it is, might be just a tad bit overused, especially in a somewhat unnecessary long take that follows Alex around school. Don't get me wrong, I love long takes, and this one's well done, but it doesn't really feel necessary or motivated.
All in all, this is a fine film, though I'll admit that if this wasn't Van Sant, then it wouldn't really be anything to write home about, or at least not quite as worthy of your time.
On the up side of things the acting for such youngs guys is totally natural and really impressive,, intense throughout, the storyline interesting with a very realistic feel, the downside to that of course is that it is very drawn out and like most realistic things, it has an unusual ending.
'Elephant', which he made in 2003, was a succesful film. 'Paranoid Park' resembles it a lot in the way of filmmaking. Amateur actors, authentic look and so on. This film has its positive sides, mainly the cinematography by Christopher Doyle, but when everything else doesn't give you anything particularly special, it can't really be that great.
Nothing much really happens here. Skater, high school kids just hanging around at Paranoid Park, watching other skaters do their thing. Then there's of course the everyday problems of dating and losing your virginity and listening to the annoying girlfriend. Oh yeah, and someone gets killed.
Although 'Paranoid Park' only lasts for less then 90 minutes, it may at times feel a bit draging and boring. I had troubles to identify myself with the main characters. I'm just a 30 year old man who was born in yokel surroundings. When I see skaters, once again, do their thing, I'm not that interested of it.
Even if the acting is solid, which is a great thing considering the amateur cast, when you skip everything else and leave just the murder, this could have worked better as a short film but not as a full length feature. But 'Paranoid Park' is in no way a bad work by Van Sant. I just don't see it as that special.
I was surprised to see that Christopher Doyle filmed this movie, but upon actually watching it, the work is clearly his. Colorful and sharply framed, he always knows what to keep in the viewer's sight and what to keep away from them. Paranoid Park, against all odds, is bizarrely suspenseful for an otherwise quiet movie. The viewer knows within the first ten minutes that Alex killed the security guard, but it doesn't make the buildup to the act any less horrifying. Watching the event unfurl, by the way, is one of the most powerful scenes of 2008; the less you know about it, the better.
Paranoid Park does ramble a little bit, and it feels as if Van Sant filmed 50 minutes of film and then just edited it all together really fancily to add another half hour. Even so, at 80 minutes, it's far more trim and meaningful than most of what you're likely to see.
What saves the film from falling to the mediocrity that claimed each installment in the "Death Trilogy" is largely its featuring a fair deal of more grounded storytelling attributes, and perhaps partly its being a little more realized with its overt artistic liberties, yet when it comes to the transitions between these two extremes in narrative stylization, it's as unrealized as ever, awkwardly jarring you between traditional and abstractionist storytelling styles, and making matters all the more awkward by not being as unique as it wants to be with either style extremes. No matter what the storytelling style is, it typically descends into tropes, breaking up genuinely refreshing dramatic and thematic elements with conventions that betray a potentially unique film, and make familiar issues all the more glaring. Again, when the film abandons a traditionalist style for abstractionism or experimentation, the artistic license usually isn't carried too far away, but when it does, it goes way out there, with ethereal visuals and atmospherics, and an intentionally draggy and disjointed narrative focus which, before too long, doesn't so much get to be uneven as much as it goes abandoned. One would expect to eventually get a grip on a film which follows a nonlinear narrative, and I suppose you can here, but it's just so difficult, and it's not long before, if anything, you have trouble feeling as though it's worth it to place investment in this unfocused, maybe even paceless opus. It doesn't help that Gus Van Sant's direction, while at the liveliest it had been in years with this project, often slips into dry spells, deriving from a thoughtfulness that, upon running out of material to soak up, drives momentum to a crawl that ranges from bland to, well, borderline tedious. All of these issues ruined Van Sant's preceding three films, and whether it be because he's trying to distinguish this artistic endeavor from the "Death Trilogy", or simply because he's starting to get a more comfortable understanding of experimental filmmaking, they're not as prominent, while strengths found in the other Van Sant films of this type feel brought more to light, thus, the final product is saved, but just barely, as it's still too uneven, overblown and, well, dull for its own good. Nonetheless, the film doesn't fall so often that it can't get back enough momentum to endear, at least as dramatically decent and, of course, stylistic solid.
Even the film's soundtrack is aesthetically sound, getting to be a little too diverse for its own good, to the point of incorporating a lame hip-hop tune and punishing hardcore punk tune, but generally delivering on plenty of respectable tunes which liven things up, as surely as a very French, unoriginal soundscape, if not classical score capture the abstractionist feel for this drama with haunting taste. The visual style further adds to the more effective artistic flavors of this effort, with Christopher Doyle and Rain Kathy Li delivering on cinematography that is often simple, and just as often breathtaking, with crisply well-defined emphasis on certain distinguished areas in lighting, if not color that, when met with such intriguing images as grainy tracking shots of skateboarding, proves to be hypnotic. The film is sometimes captivatingly beautiful, musically and visually, I'm not going to lie, and that most reflects the stylistic inspiration which sets this endeavor a fair ways away from something like the "Death Trilogy", and it helps that, this time around, Gus Van Sant has a bit of a better idea on how to play with both the style and the substance. Mind you, there are times in which Van Sant goes right back to being misguided in a manner that threatens to ruin the final product with artistic bloatings, but on the whole, you really can see Van Sant both returning to his roots as an effective traditionalist dramatic filmmaker, and making solid progress as a minimal artistic filmmaker, to where style and atmosphere are utilized in a thoughtful way that is often genuinely immersive and sometimes subtly powerful in doing justice to worthy subject matter. This film's story concept is a little obscured by an artistically overblown and intentionally disjointed, if not unfocused interpretation, but not as much as the narratives of the near-totally abstractly structured "Death Trilogy" installments, for Van Sant opens enough room for you to get a grip on themes regarding a teen's awkwardness being exacerbated by a terrible secret whose heart is kept pumping by aforementioned heights in dramatic storytelling, and by consistent heights in acting. Well, maybe the acting heights aren't too recurrent, considering sparsity's limiting material for the performers to work with, but if nothing else in this film is consistently compelling, it's the efforts of 16-year-old newcomer Gabe Nevins, who nails the awkward teen traits with a certain charm, in addition to a subtlety that, on top of feeling nuanced in its naturalism, graces emoting highlights with a piercing grace which anchors the dramatic heights of this very intimate character study. The film may let itself down time and again, but the very young and very talented Nevins is never less than endearing, which isn't to say that there aren't enough other elements which endear you to the final product as a reasonably intriguing drama, with solid highlights, limited though they may be by artistic flimsiness.
Overall, storytelling style sees an inconsistency in groundedness and a consistency in conventions, and is often overblown in a disjointed, if not unfocused fashion, often made all the more distancing by dull atmospheric dry spells, thus, the final product is threatened, but saved by the solid soundtrack, breathtaking visual style, and intriguing subject matter - whose dramatic core is often done justice by directorial highlights and a compelling lead performance by Gabe Nevins - that make Gus Van Sant's "Paranoid Park" a generally engaging and often effective experimental drama on the struggles of a youth with dark secrets, despite its bloatings and shortcomings.
2.5/5 - Fair
Based upon Blake Nelson's novel of the same name, it follows skater boy Alex as he finds himself among a group of young boarders suspected of murder. Despite it's subject matter, it isn't so concerned with the whodunit as why and how. The pieces to the puzzle are layed out in the earliest scenes of the film, but it's only till later that we realize what he have. The film circles around in a non-linear fashion slowly putting the pieces in their proper place.
Because the answers are given so early in the film, this gives us time to truthfully examine the life of a teenage boy. The film is much more concerned with the relationship with his girlfriend, with his parents and how he deals with a broken home. Taken with it's mish-mash of visual and musical styles, Van Sant creates a beautiful and unnerving coming of age story. It just so happens that it also includes death by skateboard.
Granted, if you were to take all of the unnecessary scenes out, you'd be left with a good 45 minutes of actual movie. Most of what you see in Paranoid Park are extended shots of people walking and old stock footage of skateboarders. It does a lot of the same things that Elephant does. Now, a lot of people hate this about Van Sant (I know a guy who claims that Gerry is the worst movie ever created). But to tell you the truth, I don't. That's not saying that I enjoy it and absolutely love it; I just don't mind it. If you asked me what I think, I'd just say that Van Sant likes the world we live in. He likes paying close attention to detail. It fascinates him. Problem is that it doesn't exactly fascinate everybody else.
But it fascinates me, sort of. When the camera tracks young Alex from behind for a good deal of time as he walks forth, it gives me time to soak the entire image in. It's not a cut every second. I actually get to think about what I'm seeing. And because of this, the movie feels thirty minutes longer than it is, and that kills some people.
Now, the story isn't really anything special. Alex, a teenager, spends the entire film feeling guilty over accidentally killing a security guard. That's pretty much it. Most of everything else involves him living his life. I didn't have a problem with any of that. The ending was obscure and abrupt, and all questions went unanswered, but, you know, it's fine.
So, am I recommending Paranoid Park? On a strong note, no. But if you liked Elephant, chances are you'll this film. It's nothing special, but far from ordinary.