Gus Van Sant has an inexplicable fascination with photogenic youths that yields little in the way of a meaningful film watching experience. By now, his last few films (Elephant, Gerry etc), drained of sentiment and in essence nonjudgmental, have cemented the directors signature style. ‘Paranoid Park’, starts off as an exception to this. In the film, about a young teenager who visits a skateboarding venue called ‘Paranoid Park’ and then gets into trouble with local authorities over the killing of a security guard which he may or may not have been involved with, Sant eschews his improvised long takes and lack of music for some fun and amusement. Each time Alex meets his girlfriend for example, the soundtrack tunes into 50’s whimsical background music, even when they are breaking up. Unlike some of his previous work, it is not all deadly serious, at least not all the time. There are funny moments and others that are shocking. But despite the refreshing treatment, a relapse to his usual non-conventional method by Van Sant in the final act doesn’t help make the film very watchable from a viewing perspective.
‘Paranoid Park’ has an air of suspense that is unusual for the director and he pulls it off well. He is aided in this effort by Christopher Doyle and the result is something that looks fresh and intimately captures skateboarders as they intensely dive into their addictive pastime (at one point Alex even skateboards during rain – with an umbrella). The themes of guilt when you are accused, whether the accusation is right or wrong, are also well explored. As a young, confused, sometimes introverted person, Alex regresses into isolation. His relationships with people start to suffer and his ability to be himself diminishes. Despite all this, Sant’s work reeks of artful indulgence. There are moments of nothingness that span many minutes. We get dreamy takes with Elliott Smith on the soundtrack. It is as stale as it is un-involving. Ultimately, like Van Sant himself, by focusing more on the mundane, the film becomes a victim of its own ambition.
- by Faizan Rashid [Rated 3 out of 5]