Talking Movies

January 13, 2020

From the Archives: Paranoid Park

From the pre-Talking Movies archives.

Director Gus Van Sant embarrasses himself…again. Seriously, does anyone even remember the Gus Van Sant who made indie classics Drugstore Cowboy and My Own Private Idaho? I mean at this point I’d settle for the flailing idiot who directed Good Will Hunting and the epically pointless shot by shot remake of Psycho. Instead we get the 2000s version of the director. The man who thinks that setting his films in high school and using unknown actors improvising their own minimal dialogue somehow makes him more ‘authentic’. In fact there are no more contrived films out there than this parody of an art-house drama. Atonement is being released in America as an art-house drama; it has a complicated structure, a daring theme and a great storyline. Paranoid Park’s scenes could have been cut together by monkeys for all the thought that goes into the structure of the hardly there at all story, while Van Sant is so busy ticking what he regards as the ‘art-house boxes’ that he forgets to say anything.

This film starts off with some impressive dream-like tracking shots following skateboarders at the eponymous illegal skateboard rink. Unfortunately Van Sant then shoots the entire film in the same dazed fashion. This film’s already short running time would be even briefer if you cut away every pointless tracking shot that follows alienated teen Alex down a school corridor, more often than not in slow motion, for no reason other than to allow the soundtrack to feature some impeccably obscure alt-rock track. If you want to see a tracking shot that has some purpose to it look at the already legendary Dunkirk sequence in Atonement, if you want to see a director betting his producer how many pointless tracking shots he can cram into 86 minutes watch Paranoid Park. It’s hard to emphasise just how little happens in this film. In the teenage wasteland of Portland, Oregon that Van Sant depicts Alex refuses his friend’s Macy’s suggestion that he’s upset by his parent’s divorce muttering, “There’s bigger problems…everybody’s parents get divorced”. Some vague bitching about Iraq follows but Alex talks to no-one about his secret guilt.

Van Sant fails to make us care about Alex’s predicament and his ‘ending’ is an absolute disgrace. This film also features one of the most needlessly gruesome sights of the year as the security guard, whose accidental homicide provides what little plot there is, survives being sliced in half by a train for, oh, about 30 seconds, and spends those seconds dragging his torso towards Alex trailing his guts and his spinal cord behind him. Nice. Yeah, for a George Romero zombie flick maybe…The best scene in this film comes when Alex’s younger brother does a word for word re-enactment of a scene from Napoleon Dynamite. And I don’t even like Napoleon Dynamite

1/5

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