Gus Van Sant | 2007 | 85 min | US
Gus Van Sant does some serious channeling of Harmony Korine's youthful verve for this picture in an attempted return to relevance. And it works! We follow a young skateboarder named Alex around his involvement with the accidental death of a security guard. At the film's start Alex is being interviewed by a detective who knows little more than the guard was hit by a skateboard near an infamous skate park and squat. It's a crime story in that it is centered around a criminal act, but Paranoid Park is captivating in how it weaves through adolescent awkwardness and guilt.
Park is loaded down with non-actors, which sometimes works wonderfully and sometimes fails miserably, often within the same scene. The first time you hear the voice-over you will wince, but in the context of a sixteen-year-old uncomfortably reading thoughts from his private journal, it makes perfect sense. The gracelessness forced into the picture is exactly the kind one would expect from teenagers trying to navigate love lives, family break ups, and other events out of their control.
Playing off of the turbulence of the characters is some gorgeous direction and sound design. The extended slow motion skate scenes shot in a Portland park and unlikely song selections from Fellini films turn the discord of the story on its head. Van Sant introduces several moments that allow for breaks in the stress while impressing on us the romance of a teenager just becoming involved in a new subculture.
After a bit a break from "good" it looks like Van Sant is back on his game. The world of Paranoid Park is gripping, beautiful, and authentic.