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The Warsaw Voice » Culture » June 11, 2008
Film review
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Paranoid Park
June 11, 2008 By Witold Żygulski   
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At last year's Cannes film festival, Paranoid Park was nominated for the Golden Palm, the main prize, but ended up with just the minor 60th Anniversary Award and even that is hard to comprehend. Gus Van Sant, the director who nabbed an Oscar nomination for Good Will Hunting and won a Golden Palm for Elephant, has delivered an artificially stretched out film school exercise. This film could, at best, be an entry in a competition at the end of the first year at a second-rate film school-and then only if there was a dearth of competition from more talented student directors.

A boring script co-written by Van Sant, colorless characters, silly dialogue and forced "documentary" scenes filmed with different camera types for cheap effect, plus a score which does not match the action… the list of this film's faults could go on forever. Finding strong points in the movie is way more difficult.

Paranoid Park is advertised as a movie set in "skateboard subculture." The main character, Alex, and his pal Jared are fond of skateboarding and equally fond of the titular Paranoid Park, which is a semi-legal skateboarding ground set up near the city park. But that is all there is about the aforementioned subculture, unless you count having a beer or five, picking up chicks or, oh the sophistication of it, taking a ride in a freight car. It is during one such ride that a tragedy strikes and changes Alex's life forever. At least you are supposed to believe it does, because what you see shows no indication the young man is experiencing any serious trauma.

Consciously or not, Van Sant must have realized he did not have much to say as a writer, as less than 30 minutes into the movie, scenes start to repeat themselves and all of a sudden the same trivial take (a character walks in a room, fills his glass with water and takes a seat behind a table) is shown again, adding nothing to the plot.

The movie cannot be even saved by Christopher Doyle, responsible for the splendid, stylish cinematography for several movies by Wong-Kar-Wai such as In the Mood for Love and Chungking Express. In Paranoid Park he provides a pretentious overkill of slow motion shots. Alex walks towards a beach in slow motion; Alex walks down a school corridor, cue the slow motion; Alex rides his skateboard, and guess what? Cut to Alex's face and eyes, no doubt to suggest his subtle, inner emotions, except that nothing of what you see on the screen suggests that he has any. But then again, you cannot really blame the actors for their poor acting; most of them are amateurs picked from the skateboarding community on the MySpace website.

The makers of the movie say that searching on MySpace was the perfect way to recruit actors to play high-school students. If that is the way it is, then high schools are populated by maladjusted young men who find putting together a logical sentence an ordeal and, in terms of girls, by rookie nymphomaniacs with a similar IQ. Perhaps this deliberate lack of professionalism is the stand-out feature of contemporary alternative cinema, but why do viewers have to suffer so much?
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