Here's today's rave NY Times review of Gus Van Sant's new film about a teenage boy:
Maybe it will get down here before the term is over and we can all go.
Paranoid Park (2007)
This movie has been designated a Critic's Pick by the film reviewers of The Times.
Scott Green/IFC Films
By MANOHLA DARGIS
Published: March 7, 2008
Paranoid Park is a swooping skateboarding free zone where young men learn to fly. It’s also the title of Gus Van Sant’s most recent film, a haunting, voluptuously beautiful portrait of a teenage boy who, after being suddenly caught in midflight, falls to earth. Like most of Mr. Van Sant’s films “Paranoid Park” is about bodies at rest and in motion, and about longing, beauty, youth and death, and as such as much about the artist as his subject. It is a modestly scaled triumph without a false or wasted moment.
One of the most important and critically marginalized American filmmakers working in the commercial mainstream, Mr. Van Sant has traveled from down-and-out independent to Hollywood hire to aesthetic iconoclast, a trajectory that holds its own fascination and mysteries. The Hungarian filmmaker Bela Tarr has been instrumental in Mr. Van Sant’s recent artistic renaissance — evident in his newfound love of hypnotically long and gliding camera moves — though his tenure in the mainstream has left its mark too, as demonstrated by his rejection of straight narrative. As in three-act, character-driven, commercially honed narrative in which boys will be boys of a certain type and girls will be girls right alongside them.
The boy in “Paranoid Park,” Alex (the newcomer Gabe Nevins), lives and skates in Portland, Ore., where one evening he is implicated in the brutal death of a security guard. In adapting the young-adult novel by Blake Nelson, Mr. Van Sant has retained much of the story — a man dies, Alex writes it all down — but has reshuffled the original’s chain of events to create an elliptical narrative that continually folds back on itself. Shortly after the film opens, you see Alex writing the words Paranoid Park in a notebook, a gesture that appears to set off a flurry of seemingly disconnected visuals — boys leaping through the air in slow motion, clouds racing across the sky in fast — that piece together only later.
With his on-and-off narration and pencil, Alex is effectively shaping this story, but in his own singular voice. (“I’m writing this a little out of order. Sorry. I didn’t do so well in creative writing.”) Although you regularly hear that voice — at times in Alex’s surprisingly childish, unmodulated recitation, at times in dialogue with other characters — you mostly experience it visually, as if you were watching a still-evolving film unwinding in the boy’s head. Mr. Van Sant isn’t simply trying to take us inside another person’s consciousness; he’s also exploring the byways, dead ends, pitfalls and turning points in the geography of conscience, which makes the recurrent image of the skate park — with its perilous ledges, its soaring ramps and fleetingly liberated bodies — extraordinarily powerful.
Mr. Van Sant’s use of different film speeds and jump cuts, and his tendency to underscore his own storytelling — he regularly, almost compulsively repeats certain images and lines — reinforces rather than undermines the story’s realism. With its soft, smudged colors and caressing lighting, “Paranoid Park” looks like a dream — the cinematographers are Christopher Doyle and Rain Kathy Li — but the story is truer than most kitchen-sink dramas. This isn’t the canned realism of the tidy psychological exegesis; this is realism that accepts the mystery and ambiguity of human existence. It is the realism that André Bazin sees in the world of Roberto Rossellini: a world of “pure acts, unimportant in themselves,” that prepare the way “for the sudden dazzling revelation of their meaning.”
The pure acts in “Paranoid Park” mostly involve young male skateboarders gliding and sometimes hurtling through the air. Shot in both grainy Super-8 and velvety 35-millimeter film, these bodies appear alternately grounded and out of this world, reflecting extremes of physical effort while also suggesting different states of being. The Super-8 images of young men rolling along concrete, flipping boards and attitude, have the vaguely battered quality of old home movies, as if someone had just pulled the footage from a drawer. The glossier 35-millimeter images, by contrast, look almost monumental, epic, nowhere more so than when Mr. Van Sant shows one after another skateboarder suspended in the air at the peak of his jump, each a vision of Icarus.
Closer to earth, Alex roams through his world like an alien, a zombie, a prisoner, mostly mute, his features fixed, face blank and impenetrable. He says little, betrays less. His smiles are brief, infrequent. He’s adrift in a sea of near-strangers, including his parents, who are almost as conceptual as those in “Peanuts” (Dad’s tattoos notwithstanding), and his girlfriend (Taylor Momsen), a coltish cheerleader who wants to lose her virginity to him for the sake of convenience. (Mr. Van Sant has rarely been as patient with his female characters as he is with his male ones.) Alex’s single close connection is with his friend Jared (Jake Miller), who brings him to the skate park with the warning “No one’s ever really ready for Paranoid Park.”
Mr. Van Sant has always made a home for lost boys, from River Phoenix’s wanderer in “My Own Private Idaho” to the ghostly Kurt Cobain figure who roams through “Last Days,” those downy, itinerant beauties whose words stick to their tongues and whose pain seems as bottomless as their eyes. In some respects Paranoid Park represents adulthood; the critic Amy Taubin has provocatively suggested to Mr. Van Sant that the film’s subtext is that of a gay initiation. (He didn’t disagree.) Both readings are ripe for the picking. But what strikes me the hardest about “Paranoid Park” is the intimacy, the love — carnal, paternal, human — of Mr. Van Sant’s expansive, embracing vision. No one is ever really ready for Paranoid Park, but neither do you have to go there alone.
“Paranoid Park” is rated R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian). There is an extremely graphic, unflinchingly brutal image of a dying man.
Opens on Friday in New York and Los Angeles.
Written, directed and edited by Gus Van Sant; directors of photography, Christopher Doyle and Rain Kathy Li; art director, John Pearson-Denning; produced by Marin Karmitz and Nathanaël Karmitz; released by IFC Films. Running time: 1 hour 18 minutes.
WITH: Gabe Nevins (Alex), Dan Liu (Detective Richard Lu), Jake Miller (Jared), Taylor Momsen (Jennifer), Lauren McKinney (Macy) and Olivier Garnier (Cal).