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Paranoid Park

Choppy, unprofessional film techniques, acting that matches that amateurish look, and an overriding feeling of teen ennui make Paranoid Park into possibly the longest 90 minutes of your life.


Alex (Gabe Nevins) is a disaffected teenager whose entire life revolves around skateboarding, especially since his parents have split up. The high schooler is not even interested in his pretty girlfriend (Taylor Momsen), despite her willingness to lose her virginity to him. No, it is all about skateboarding for Alex. He and his buddy Jared venture into a tough skateboard park known as Paranoid Park, a place where much older guys are hanging out. As the story unfolds, Alex returns to the park over and over again, fulfilling his fascination with riding the concrete bunkers. On one fateful night, Alex and an older boarder are involved in the accidental killing of a security guard in the railway yards that adjoin Paranoid Park. Will the teenager come forward and admit what happened, especially when the police come to his school and question all the kids who ride? Or will he just devolve into a paranoid loner?


"Acting" is stretching what Gabe Nevins is a disaffected teenager whose entire life revolves around skateboarding, especially since his parents have split up. The high schooler is not even interested and the other "actors" in Paranoid Park are actually doing. Virtually everyone involved, including Jake Miller, Lauren McKinney, Winfield Jackson, Joe Schweitzer, and John Michael Burrowes, are all amateurs, with Paranoid Park being their debut film--and it shows. The acting is so stilted, self-conscious, and downright bad that it is almost laughable--except for that fact that there is nothing at all funny about this film that belongs more on YouTube, not on the big screen. Perhaps that is writer/director Gus van Sant's intent, but watching it go on and on is downright painful. Nevins stutters, stammers, and grunts his way through the film, but at least he looks good doing it, his only saving grace. The only performance worth paying attention to is 14-year-old Taylor Momsen's (Cindy-Lou Who in How the Grinch Stole Christmas). She plays Alex's self-involved girlfriend and makes a standout impression.


Gus van Sant has made some terrific movies in his 25-year career. Think Good Will Hunting (which got him a Best Director Oscar nomination), To Die For, Drugstore Cowboy. But he's made some unwatchable ones as well--My Own Private Idaho, and the incredibly ill-conceived remake of Psycho--and Paranoid Park falls squarely into that latter category. Using Super 8 and videotape footage mixed in with 35mm film, Van Sant has created a film that looks like it was shot by the same teenagers that inhabit it, right down to jiggly sequences, out-of-focus shots, and bad audio. The idea seems to be to deliver an experience that is the equivalent of actually riding a skateboard, and in that he succeeds. But in the experience of seeing a movie, it is simply annoying, and ultimately incredibly boring to watch. Someone apparently likes this movie, however, as it won an award at the Cannes Film Festival. You'll only like it if watching a withdrawn teenage boy aimlessly riding a skateboard while getting progressively more uncommunicative is your idea of fun.

Bottom Line rated this film 1 star.