Thursday, March 13, 2008


Written and Directed by Gus Van Sant
Starring: Gabe Nevins, Daniel Liu, Taylor Momsen, Jake Miller, Lauren McKinney

Alex: Nobody is ever ready for Paranoid Park.

Up the ramp, through the sky and inevitably down again, pulled back by the greater forces that were just defied momentarily. This is the repeated journey of the seasoned skater. In PARANOID PARK, the community made skate park that plays home to Gus Van Sant’s latest effort and a number of aimless boarders, the journey is dreamy. Boys go up, boys come down and though they never seem to know where they will land, the camera is always right behind them to capture their fall back to earth. Between Christopher Doyle’s sinuous cinematography and the mangled music of Nino Rota, it is easy to feel as if you might be dreaming when watching, if only your eyes were closed. It isn’t long though before the hollow looks on everyone’s faces, the pointless words that repeatedly fall out of everyone’s mouths and the "How I Spent my Summer Vacation" narration, wake you from your dream to see things as they really are. PARANOID PARK is just another Van Sant art experiment gone painfully wrong. If only the aging director weren’t so blinded by his adoration for the young – maybe then he could see that he wasn’t showing us his dreams but rather his fantasies.

From the moment the film opens on a static shot of cars passing over a bridge in time lapse photography, you know that you’re about to see that other kind of Van Sant movie. The veteran director has always skated back and forth between the accessible and the abnormal. He has proven that he can handle both sides of the ramp with ease (GOOD WILL HUNTING vs. MY OWN PRIVATE IDAHO) and has wiped out just as often (FINDING FORRESTER vs. EVEN COWGIRLS GET THE BLUES). Lately though, he seems more concerned with trying hard to be different that the works feel increasingly labored and less genuine or spontaneous. While he’s busy spitting on convention, he doesn’t realize that he’s creating his own distinct but overdone aesthetic at the same time. I for one have seen enough lanky, longhaired, young boys looking blankly into the camera before turning and walking away as we follow and stare at their pants hanging off their asses. Change the scenery from a skate park to a desert or a high school corridor and all his later films become stylistically interchangeable. Only PARANOID PARK is distinctly different then his other works – it’s almost entirely unenjoyable and not the least bit aware of or concerned for its audience.

As if snubbing both your audience and convention weren’t enough, Van Sant also doesn’t seem to care about his own amassed experience. What point is there in making movies for over twenty years if you’re not going to use what you’ve learnt to make even better ones? Though Van Sant may clearly be bored of the Hollywood style, that doesn’t mean it holds no merit. To ensure PARANOID PARK felt fresh and inspired, he cast non-professional actors he found on Myspace. First of all, I’m pretty sure other men his age have been reprimanded, not rewarded, for seeking out underage boys on the internet. Secondly, untrained acting does not come across as more authentic, it just comes across as bad. A movie about teenagers trying to come to terms with their inevitable passage into adulthood shouldn’t feel like it was made by a bunch of teenagers on the weekend because they had nothing better to do with their time. And even Van Sant knows his story was thinner than the emaciated boys onscreen as he is constantly cutting back to montages of said boys performing skate tricks with their buddies. Either he was trying to distract us from the film’s futility or the boys were just plain distracting him.

Honestly, I’m not sure who exactly is supposed to enjoy PARANOID PARK. It is far too esoteric for the distracted generation it portrays and entirely uninteresting to the older art house crowd given the subject matter. I like art house AND skater boys and I still wanted to scream in the middle of the picture to see if I was either living or dreaming this particular nightmare. And so it would seem that Van Sant has successfully made a picture for an untapped audience – men in their fifties desperate enough to sit through a painfully mundane hour and a half of uselessness to enjoy a few shots of boys in their prime flying through the air with their wooden boards gripped tightly in their virile hands.

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