‘Paranoid Park’ movie review: hypnotic Gus Van Sant minimalism

In the mold of Elephant and Last Days, Gus Van Sant brings us another minimalist drama in Paranoid Park

Complete with long, drawn-out takes, extensive use of slow-motion, non-linear storytelling, homosexual undertones and an eclectic mixed soundtrack, fans of the director should be pleased while most others may be running for the exits. Top asset: beautiful, lingering Christopher Doyle cinematography.

With a cast of (mostly) non-professional actors, Van Sant follows a small niche of the Portland, Oregon skateboarding community that hangs out at the titular skate park, focusing on young highschooler Alex (Gabe Nevins), who narrates bits and pieces of the story while jotting them down in his notebook in retrospect. 

We learn early on that Alex was involved in the death of a security guard, and spend the rest of the film rummaging through his mind over a few fateful days. His parents are separated and rarely seen, he has a pretty young girlfriend named Jennifer (Taylor Momsen), and he spends most of his time walking around with (but rarely riding) a skateboard. 

After an initial visit to Paranoid Park, he becomes fascinated with the place and grungy youths that seem to live in and around it.

Best scene: Alex’s naturalistic interrogation at the hands of Detective Lu (Daniel Liu), which lingers distractingly on a visit to Subway: “Footlong or six-inch sub?” “What kind of bread?” “Six dollars? You must’ve had the meal then.”

Soundtrack includes punk, rock, country, Beethoven, and Nino Rota, the most memorable pieces recycled from Fellini’s Juliet of the Spirits

These play out over long, slow-motion takes following Alex through high school hallways and random youths at the skatepark; borderline self-parody as an all-too-typical example of what to expect from your Van Sant film fest flick, but also hauntingly memorable.

Film ultimately seems to lack the significance of Last Days or Elephant, though it also lacks their pretension; it helps that Van Sant doesn’t have to pay any respects to real-world incidents.

Use of non-professional actors is mostly an asset, despite a few line reads that feel like word-for-word recitals instead of natural dialogue.

But Doyle’s camerawork turns this potentially self-indulgent piece into an almost hypnotic meditation on its characters; a must for the director’s fans and lovers of arthouse cinema, though others should stay away.


Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky has been writing about the Prague film scene and reviewing films in print and online media since 2005. A member of the Online Film Critics Society, you can also catch his musings on life in Prague at expats.cz and tips on mindfulness sourced from ancient principles at MaArtial.com.

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