Saturday, April 5, 2008

Paranoid Park (2007. Gus Van Sant)

In many ways, this is the film Van Sant has been working toward for years. Much of his work has dealt with pretty young men and the outsider communities in which they live, but Paranoid Park takes this one step further, by telling its story almost subjectively. Along with his ace sound designer Leslie Shatz- almost certainly his key collaborator at this point- Van Sant immerses us in the point of view of Alex (newcomer Gabe Nevins), who wanders through the film without a clear place to fit into its world. His home life is in flux with his parents' divorce about to finalize, and as a high schooler he doesn't pay his parents much mind anyway (rarely do we see them straight on, as Van Sant shoots them primarily outside or at the edge of the frame). Likewise, he's an outsider in school by virtue of his skateboarder status. Yet while he runs with the "skateboarder community" (dig the shot of them walking down the hallway, one at a time joining them), he never even fits in with these guys. Consider that we never actually see him skateboarding at the Park- he tells his friend "I'm not quite ready," and late in the film he admits to his dad that "I mostly just practice when I'm alone." But it's not until the central killing that he more or less severs his emotional ties with those he's closest to- his girlfriend, his best skateboarding bud, and so on. Even when his friend Macy invites him to reach out to her by suggesting he put his thoughts in a letter, he takes the letter and burns it instead. If Gerry was exciting for the boldness with which Van Sant experimented with his new-found style, Paranoid Park is equally bracing, albeit in a different way, as the ultimate distillation of his influences and inspirations into a unique Van Sant-ian aesthetic. And unlike his previous films Elephant and Last Days, Paranoid Park frees Van Sant from the burden of dealing with historical record and the moral quagmire that entails, instead allowing him to groove on the pure-cinema possibilities of his characters' situations. Perhaps it's for the best that Van Sant has declared that he's moving in a new stylistic direction with his next films, as I'd imagine it'd probably end up bringing in diminishing returns if used over and over again. Rating: 8 out of 10.

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