Heather is new to Portland, so I’ve taken it upon myself to inculcate in her an understanding of Portland’s all-around greatness. One of Portland’s greats is Gus Van Sant. I was shocked to learn not only that his films were not one of her reasons for moving here, but that she’d only seen Good Will Hunting! So I dragged her to Portland’s venerable art house theater, Cinema 21, to see Paranoid Park.
(I will ply her with my favorites, Drugstore Cowboy and My Own Private Idaho, later – but hide Even Cowgirls Get the Blues!)
Paranoid Park is the kind of film I have to see in a theater. If a movie doesn’t play by the rules, i.e. if it makes me pay attention and think, I, like most moviegoers, sometimes lose patience (the floor needs sweeping, let me get up and get another glass of wine, maybe it’s my turn on Scrabulous . . . ). I netflixed Gerry, Elephant, and Last Days and didn’t get through any of them (I’m both a lazy blogger and a lazy movie watcher). In his review, Shawn Levy succinctly sums up what it is about Paranoid Park and Van Sant’s other “arty” films:
Like “Gerry,” “Elephant” and “Last Days,” it’s built of long, often mobile, often dialogue-free shots; a disconnected narrative; and an emphasis on mood and texture instead of plot and explicit characterization. These films seem entirely unfettered by the demands of the commercial cinema and answer instead to a kind of poetic dream logic, in which repetition, fractured logic and novelties of craft don’t distract from the point but rather are the point: the sensation as subject matter. What seemed to have begun as an experiment has become a stylistic signature; Van Sant’s latest films feel as if they come from another country and, at times, from another world.
I had read the review before I watched the film, so I was prepared to pay attention.
It was easier than I thought it would be; I immediately identified with the main character, Alex. My 16th year, too, was an inexorable swirl of Holden-Caulfieldish cynicism and apathy held together by the glue of stoicism. The adult world eventually overwhelms every kid, some more abruptly than others.
Blake Nelson’s story, Van Sant’s vision, and the cast’s performances capture that liminal stage in one teenager’s life, a teenager with a crumbling home life and an ill-fated rainy night in a rail yard.
Portland’s noirish qualities are on fine display. Van Sant, as always, gets good performances from new and unknown actors. His skill as a director and editor combined with Gabe Nevins’ subtle performance successfully positions the viewer in the non-linear narrative mind’s eye of Alex. You do have to pay attention though.