Paranoid Park Reviews
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
Despite the flaws, it's a pretty good loss of innocence flick.