Alex (Gabe Nevins) is a teenage skate rat who lives his life in a fog. When the cops come rolling into his school looking for clues to catch the murderer of a railway security guard, Alex is evasive, troubled by events that are unclear. Retracing his night at the seedy Paranoid Park skate spot, Alex looks to articulate his life dealing with high-maintenance girlfriends, the high cost of Subway sandwiches, and a vague sense of guilt that almost reads as insomnia.
"Paranoid" is Van Sant's fourth straight feature film to employ a Euro-speckled non-linear, minimalist format, following the characters blindly instead of prodding them for dramatic response. Much like "Gerry," "Elephant," and "Last Days," "Paranoid" is a love it or leave it experience: either there's a immediate connection with Van Sant's workmanlike art-house pandering or the movie is 75 minutes of idle torture, demonstrating that a once-great director has become a parody of himself.
For reasons I will try to keep short enough for publication, I loathed this idiotic mash note to skateboarders and fluttery teen introspection. My full apologies to "Juno," for I would've given my left arm for someone to inject a spoonful of Diablo Cody's verbal narcissism into this morose, limp, aggravatingly distanced affair. Reportedly based on the novel by Blake Nelson, Van Sant has taken an allegedly beloved creation of teen turmoil and turned it into a sluggish home run derby of inarticulation and numbskull acting. My God, this film is so senseless it makes "Meet the Spartans" look like the "McLaughlin Group."
The argument for mesmerizing cinema typically falls toward Van Sant's patience with time and observance of nuance. He doesn't direct anymore, he allows. Hire fantastic actors like Matt Damon and Casey Affleck, and I'll buy it, simply because these guys have experience. "Paranoid" is cast with amateurs who know nothing about cinematic language. The acting aims to evoke realism, but these kids are still aching to put on a show; especially blank-slate Nevins, who gracelessly reads his dialogue off cocktail napkins and is caught trying to pose himself for the camera. It's nauseating watching Van Sant push this kid to be the center of conflict for the movie; an open-wound pimple-popper the narrative is structured around, yet he fails to engage the senses on any conceivable level outside of contempt. I'm baffled why Van Sant didn't just cast a mime instead.
Like the previous films, the iffy cinematography (by giant Christopher Doyle and Rain Kathy Li) sweats to capture the substance of moments; the complication of simplicity. Unfortunately, this means sitting through minutes-long takes of Alex walking around his high school, staring off into the distance, hearing his little brother quote "Napoleon Dynamite," and more staring off into the distance. That's not including the numerous moments of orchestral zoning out, where the frame wanders while music blares, as though Van Sant is padding the picture to semi-releasable standards. This is a crisp, white hanky doused with cinematic chloroform pressed tightly across the face.
There are people who will fall on the Van Sant sword to defend his articulation of vacancy. At this point, I'd rather Van Sant fall on it, to spare the planet another lube-heavy, navel-gazing foray into the pretentious void.