Stars: Gabe Nevins, Taylor Momsen
Director: Gus Van Sant
*** (out of five)
The title of Gus Van Sant’s Paranoid Park refers to a real Portland skateboarding mecca erected by homeless kids as their own private arena — a place apart from the real world. The film, adapted from a novel by Blake Nelson, attempts to explore this sense of adolescent insularity from the inside out. Where Van Sant’s earlier, much-acclaimed Elephant stayed mostly at arms length from its high school-age protagonists, Paranoid Park plunges us into the inner life a single disaffected teen. His name is Alex (non-pro Gabe Nevins, cast via MySpace), and his head is not a safe place to be: In addition to a host of fairly identifiable problems Alex bears the psychic weight of his involvement in a horrific accidental death.
Largely eschewing the impassive, long-take style that distinguished Elephant and Last Days, Paranoid Park works as a visual and sonic collage — a wash of images and sounds that break like waves over our grateful senses. But that’s also just another way of saying the film is a wash. Its abstractions reek of calculation and also an odd kind of complacency — this meticulously evanescent film about the terror beyond youth’s limited purview seems a shade comfortable inside its own aestheticized bubble.