Monday, 20 May 2019

Mubi Monday: Paranoid Park (2007)

Gus Van Sant. Sometimes I really enjoy his movies, sometimes I REALLY don't. Paranoid Park is one I really don't, there's no point beating about the bush. Based on the novel by Blake Nelson, it's like a skateboarder riff on Blow-Up, which could have been fine if not for the fact that the script is weak and the acting, at times, absolutely terrible. Top tip - don't use social media to put together your cast. It shows. Oh boy, it shows.

Gabe Nevins is Alex, a young boy with a story to tell. That story revolves around the people he meets at the titular skate park, the accidental death of a security guard, and his relationship with a young girl named Jennifer (Taylor Momsen).

Although there are a few things that I'll grudgingly admit Paranoid Park gets right (that restlessness of youth that leads to the need for change, even as everything seems to be going well), there are far too many things it gets wrong, including the tension that should be created by the central investigation into the death of the guard. If you can recall times in your youth when you spent time either skateboarding or thinking about skateboarding, in between other fleeting teenage problems that felt heavy upon your young shoulders, then this may work better for you. Everyone else will be annoyed by it.

A large part of that annoyance comes from the cast. This is another project that Van Sant thought would benefit from casting non-actors in key roles. He is wrong once again, and that is painfully obvious in a few key scenes. Nevins isn't as bad as he could be in the lead role, although he doesn't have an ounce of appeal or charisma, and Momsen shows that she's one of the cast members with acting experience. Others range from pretty poor to absolutely dire. I wasn't surprised to look up the filmography of Lauren McKinney and find that this is her only role. I don't like singling people out for particularly harsh criticism but McKinney gives one of the worst performances that I have ever seen. Imagine convincing a child to speak lines of dialogue by waiting just behind the camera with a biscuit-shaped reward and you'll have an idea of how she acts. She looks directly at the camera on at least two occasions, seeming to be pleased with the fact that she had just managed to deliver all of the words she was told to say aloud.

It's a shame that the acting is sometimes SO bad because the directorial style would work well with natural performances that were actually good. Van Sant knows how to nonchalantly film things with a seeming lack of focus while also ensuring that the viewer is taking in the right details, be it dialogue or character interactions, or even just a look from someone.

I am guessing this works better in book form. In adapting it to the screen, Van Sant mashes together two separate aspects without ever effectively blending them. It feels like there is room for more content to be packed into either main element, either more detective work with the feeling that the situation is getting more dangerous for the main character, or more simple entertainment in the form of skateboarding sequences.


You can buy the movie here.
Americans can stream it here.

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