(director/writer: Gus Van Sant; screenwriter: from the novel by Blake Nelson; cinematographers: Rain Kathy Li/Christopher Doyle; editor: Gus Van Sant; music: Nino Rotto; cast: Gabe Nevins (Alex), Daniel Liu (Detective Richard Lu), Jake Miller (Jared), Taylor Momsen (Jennifer), Lauren McKinney (Macy), Olivier Garnier (Cal), Winfield Jackson (Christian), Joe Schweitzer (Paul), Scott Patrick Green (Scratch), Grace Carter (Alex’s Mom), John “Smay” Williamson (Alex’s Dad); Runtime: 85; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Charles Gilibert/David Cress/Nathanaël Karmitz/Neil Kopp; IFC First Take; 2007)
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Portland director Gus Van Sant (“Gerry”/”Elephant”/”Last Days”) stays home to make this nonlinear and aesthetic film that he adapted from the novel by fellow Portlander Blake Nelson. It’s about a likable but aimless 16-year-old boy named Alex (Gabe Nevins) who is learning to cope with his parents’ impending divorce, the boredom of school and a pushy virgin cheerleader girlfriend (Taylor Momsen) who wants some action. For kicks the quiet Alex hangs out skateboarding at Portland’s infamous Paranoid Park—a downtown playground for skateboarders illegally built by the misfit kids over a former industrial site. One night, adjacent to Paranoid Park, Alex accidentally kills a bully railroad security guard who is trying to knock him off the outside of a freight train with a baseball bat and though the joy rider is sensitive about the death, he refuses to tell anyone about his involvement—including the suspicious but amiable investigating detective (Daniel Liu) who questions him alone and with his group of skateboarders.
The film is very stylish (as co-cinematographer Christopher Doyle and Rain Kathy Li come up with some engaging dreamy camera work by shooting in both grainy Super-8 and glossy 35-millimeter film). These tangible shots of a skateboarder taking a tumble elevate moral inertia and confusion to a point of disaffection, as Van Sant voices an eerie melancholic mood for the lost youngsters he clearly empathizes with and gives voice to the inarticulate kid in a lyrical way as he magically gets inside the kid’s head without having the kid tell us what’s there. A sympathetic friendly girl (Lauren McKinney), the smartest friend the kid knows, tells him that it might be best to write a journal about what you want to say but can’t—so by writing a confessional essay the kid assuages his guilt-feelings. I don’t know if that’s an answer for such a troubled lost soul who is in angst because he can’t push back the clock and retrieve his lost childhood innocence, his virginity or the completeness of family life, but it’s certainly a start—and that’s all this cautious and slight coming-of-age tale (or as some critics provocatively suggest a gay initiation tale) seems to be saying.
It comes with an emotionally involving Nino Rotto score. The minimalist work pays tribute to Hungarian director Béla Tarr. It won the 60th anniversary award at Cannes.
REVIEWED ON 4/27/2008 GRADE: B https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/