Paranoid Park may be the longest 85 minute film I’ve ever seen, which in this case strangely does not mean that I did not enjoy it. The movie stars unknown Gabe Nevins as an enigmatic youngster Alex, who may or may not have been involved with a deadly incident with a security guard near a fictional skateboarding park that gives the film its name.
The film is organized in the now-familiar fragmented time structure, which unsurprisingly reveals what happened with the security guard towards the end of the 85 minutes, despite most of the “action” of the film occurring after the incident. Despite the structure, however, the film ultimately doesn’t lead or climax to that event; it’s a classic example of how we got there being more important than the destination. Paranoid Park is ultimately a 15 minute short story told over a feature length; how director Gus Van Sant fills those extra 80 minutes is where the film makes its true intent clear.
Van Sant, who achieved unexpected mainstream success with Good Will Hunting, has recently returned to small-time fare after losing his touch with his Psycho re-make, and feel good schlock like Finding Forrester. With Paranoid Park, Van Sant seems re-invigorated with more artistic freedom and smaller stories and .
Most notably, Van Sant has interspersed throughout Paranoid Park cuts of grainy film showing skaters…skating. The sequences, which last for minutes, not seconds, are sometimes stunning; a particular shot held still that catches faceless skaters move in and out of the frame in mid-air is perhaps the film’s most memorable moment. Yet it’s also indicative of the film’s lack of any narrative momentum, and the simple beauty of the skating sequences are contrasted sharply with the rest of the film, both in the quality of the film as well as the direction Van Sant chose to go with his actors.
With a cast of unprofessionals, Van Sant at first seems to have simply chosen bad actors. Yet the awkwardness of the performances, including Alex’s voice-overs, which stumble and falter like a student reading in front of his class, is part of the experience Van Sant is attempting to build for his audience. Paranoid Park is ultimately less about what the audiences sees, but how the audience feels, which by the end of the film is something like a disenfranchised youth: tired, awkward, unsure, and a little bit out of focus. Bits of the rest of Alex’s life are revealed – his parents have divorced and his girlfriend is less interested in Alex than his ability to take her viginity – and like the core plot, Van Sant uses these details as details, bits and pieces to fill in the general tableau of the movie. It’s not an entirely satisfying technique, but it’s a unique one, and far more likely to linger in your mind than the latest triple digit blockbuster at the megaplex.