Director Gus Van Sant skillfully renders the experience of disaffected youth in Paranoid Park.
His latest low-budgeter completes a vision started with Elephant and Last Days using unknown amateurs recruited from places like myspace.com.
The titular location in Portland, Oregon is a place where many like Alex (Gabe Nevins) hangs out with slacker pals engaging often in skateboarding. Unlike Catherine Hardwicke's Lords of Dogtown the sometimes extreme sport serves as a metaphor or backdrop for something more penetrating.
Based on the work of Portland author, Van Sant structures it all through Alex's perspective, recalling not-so-distant events unchronologically. It centers on a security guard being killed along the railroad tracks near the park where Alex is seen with those like Jared (Jake Miller).
Alex happens to be coping with his parents' separation while listening to his playful young brother (Dillon Hines) and needy cheerleading girlfriend (Taylor Momsen). The accidental death brings a detective (Daniel Liu) encroaching Alex's comfort zone, looking for something that the struggling teen isn't willing to give.
For many, Van Sant's simplicity and minimalism may be more off-putting than off-handed. Having these unrecognizable performers at his disposal offers unfiltered line readings and gestures that brings verisimilitude to Alex's emotional angst. The tracking of an amoral protagonist prompts a variety of reactions, including something presumably deeply intimate seeming so real.
Nevins quietly holds one's attention, as one pieces the puzzle of someone trying to understand his place in the social spectrum. Aside from a startling sequence, the handling of the story hardly feels gratuitous, but feels more disarming as the lensing from Christopher Doyle (who doubles as Alex's "uncle") and Kathy Li invites a stream-of-consciousness. The use of 35mm and Super 8 photography with its grainy texture immerses one into the athleticism in adolescence.
As its detractors might aver a vortex of pretentiousness, Paranoid Park gracefully finds its way through choices which add more moral complexity. A sobering time comes across with intense, ungimmicky understated power where naivete unfolds in a razor-sharp way.