PARANOID PARK Directed by Gus Van Sant. Starring Gabe Nevins, Taylor Momsen, Jake Miller, Dan Liu 15A cert, Cineworld/Movies@ Dundrum/Screen, Dublin, 85 min
FOLLOWING his intriguing and affecting Last Days, which featured Michael Pitt as a rock star modelled on Kurt Cobain, Gus Van Sant returns to his home turf of Portland, Oregon for Paranoid Park. The movie revisits a theme – alienated young males – that has been a preoccupation of Van Sant’s work, most potently in My Own Private Idaho (1991) and Elephant, which won him the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 2003.
To the surprise of many at Cannes this year, Paranoid Park took the festival’s special 60th anniversary prize while a far superior US entry, Joel and Ethan Coen’s No Country for Old Men, went unrewarded by the jury.
Falling far short of Van Sant’s own most notable achievements, Paranoid Park is another of his low-budget, minimalist movies featuring mostly non-professional actors, this time recruited through an open casting call on MySpace. It plays like a weaker companion picture to Elephant, which followed two male students going on a shooting rampage at their school.
The protagonist of Paranoid Park is another disaffected teen. Alex is 16, living with his divorced motherand evidently more interested in skateboarding than sex. Now that Van Sant finally has discovered skateboarding (can breakdancing be next?) he squanders time admiring the activity in what are essentially grainy music videos.
Paranoid Park is based on a novel aimed at young adults and adapted for the screen in a non-linear structure. On the evidence of the screenplay, the material is slight to begin with, and Van Sant deliberately withholds information to inject the later stages with a belated dramatic kick.
There is, eventually, a moral dilemma, when Alex is suspected of involvement in the death of a railway security guard struck by a skateboard.
Van Sant replays several apparently banal scenes that are given context and meaning by details ever so gradually revealed. While the film may aspire to a nonjudgmental point of view, it is clear that Van Sant empathises with Alex, but as socially concerned drama, his movie packs none of the punch one would expect from Ken Loach, for example.
The soundtrack is beyond eclectic, giving the impression of radio channels being changed regularly as it switches between rap, metal, classical and country music, and oddly borrows chunks of Nino Rota’s scores for Fellini films, which tend to swamp the slender, low-key nature of Paranoid Park.