out of Five
Running time: 85
Beautifully shot, superbly acted and thoroughly engaging, this is quite simply Gus Van Sant's masterpiece.
What's it all about?
Gabe Nevins plays Alex, an aimless Portland teenager whose parents are getting divorced and who spends all his time skateboarding with his best friend (Jake Miller), which, in turn, is beginning to annoy his girlfriend (Taylor Momsen). One evening, Alex goes to the Big Kids Skate Park (nicknamed Paranoid Park) by himself and has a chance encounter that will change his life.
The film is framed as a confessional story that Alex is writing so the narrative skips about chronologically with some scenes repeating or overlapping in the process. However, rather than being disjointed, it feels totally seamless and works brilliantly.
The film is beautifully shot, courtesy of master cinematographer Chris Doyle (who appears briefly as Uncle Tommy, a key player in Alex's parents' divorce). Every shot in the film is astonishing, but highlights include: the opening shot of Portland Bridge; a shower scene; a shot of Alex skateboarding with an open umbrella; a sequence in a skating tunnel with a light at the end; and close-ups of Alex's unusual face, with his huge eyes but curiously unexpressive mouth.
The film also includes some terrific variations on usual teen movie staples, such as a superbly filmed sex scene; a dialogue-free break-up scene scored to music; and a conversation with his father, where the father is only shown in the background and out of focus. There's also at least one shot that will make the audience gasp in shock, but to give that away would be churlish.
Finally, the film has a spectacular soundtrack with a delightfully eclectic mix of songs and styles that Van Sant uses to fabulous effect. The performances are superb too - many of the actors were apparently sourced from MySpace, which much have seemed like a dodgy idea at the time but it has paid huge dividends.
Paranoid Park is a superbly directed, beautifully acted, emotionally engaging and thought-provoking drama that's easily one of the best films of the year. Unmissable.