Paranoid Park (2007) / Drama

MPAA Rated: R for sexual content involving teens, disturbing images and language
Running time: 85 min.

Cast: Gabe Nevins, Taylor Momsen, Jake Miller, Lauren McKinney, Daniel Liu, Winfield Jackson
Cameo: Kathryn Morris
Director: Gus Van Sant
Screenplay: Gus Van Sant (based on the novel by Blake Nelson)

Paranoid Park derives its name from a real-life park in Portland, Oregon, where the film is set.  The name probably derives from its reputation as a hotspot of illegal activity, and in the film, it's a place few would venture alone if it can be helped.  The site became the inspiration for a juvenile fiction novel by Blake Nelson (who changed the park to a skate park in a different part of Portland), telling of Alex (Nevins), a teenage skateboarder who may know something about the grisly death of a security guard at a nearby railroad.   

Paranoid Park is another excursion by Gus Van Sant (Paris I Love You, Finding Forrester) into the smaller independent film market, utilizing experimental techniques and am esoteric style rarely found outside of art house films.  Although constructed as to be a mystery,(which it really isn't much of), the tone of the film is moody and ponderous, with Van Sant much more concerned about the young protagonists ability to cope through his parents divorce, his girlfriend's (Momsen, Underdog) sexual pressures, and his need to feel like he belongs to a community that isn't quite ready to accept him.  Added to these heavy thoughts are the nagging questions elicited by a policeman investigating what appears to be a murder done by a skater who may have been in Paranoid Park, which Alex seems to know something about, even if he may not be the one who committed the heinous deed.

This much soul searching in one's life often manifests itself into a channeling of these feelings into an art form, and Alex's chosen conduit happens to be a journal where he can write all of his musings and frustrations.  The film gives us bits and pieces of these writings, as he tries to write down exactly what he's thinking, though he often omits key pieces of the puzzle that would allow us to truly understand him, and perhaps for Alex to understand himself.  These repressed feelings say much more to us about how Alex really operates than anything he could have written -- sometimes it's the things not said that truly say the most.

Paranoid Park owes a great deal of its success to quality casting, especially when you consider that non-professional actors play key roles, most notably Gabe Nevins very convincing turn as Alex.  Van Sant continues the trend to draw out very believable performances from his young cast, all of whom act and react as normal teenagers might in a given situation.  This lends the film with a much needed sense of authenticity to draw us in to Alex's world, full of tumult, falling apart around him without any notion as to how he might begin the rebuilding process. 

Less patient viewers expecting more of a thriller will have a hard time sitting through the film, especially as larger issues lie largely unresolved at the conclusion.  Those with patience should appreciate the introspective take on one teenage boy's journey to self discovery, and realize it as the stuff Van Sant's film is all about, and not the murder investigation that becomes the catalyst for his unsettled feelings about all matters in his own life. 

As Alex states in the film, problems seem so small in comparison with the larger problems of the world, although, like he does with his knowledge of the Iraq War, he'd rather not know or remember the things that really make a difference.  In the end, he is as disconnected to what's really going on as many other of this generation's youth, trying to cope with the day to day personal problems while completely ignoring the giant issues that are constantly imposing themselves on the subconscious mind with increasing weight.

Qwipster's rating:

2007 Vince Leo