Parents just don’t understand, but, surprisingly, the older dude who found you through MySpace and asked you to be in his movie really does. Gus Van Sant’s interest in amateur teen actors and their flawless complexions has occasionally seemed prurient, but his Paranoid Park, cast partly via the website that enables every kid with a cell phone cam to strike a pose, peeks out from the wings at adolescent cultural play-acting.
Partly it’s the costume changes — like how flirty cheerleader Jennifer (Taylor Momsen) wears pastel tanks and frilly knit caps with her friends, and Hot Topic blacks and Avril Lavigne’s raccoon eyes with her sk8tr boifriend, Alex (Gabe Nevins). But Van Sant also gets under Nevins’s (unblemished) skin, with a subjective sound design cross-fading as if the entire theater is a set of headphones, and a jumbled chronology circling around Alex’s Secret Shame. (Van Sant’s script is apparently very faithful to Pacific Northwesterner Blake Nelson’s source novel, though the guilty day-dreamy structure is the filmmaker’s addition.) This teen’s angst is a doozy — his inadvertent role in the grisly death of a security guard during a boys-will-be-boys trespass. But for all anyone else in the movie knows, he could be replaying his parents’ divorce, weighing the irreconcilability of his and Jennifer’s differences against her aggressive turn around third base, or remembering his last trip to the skate park.
Skateboarding, here as in life, is a metaphor for momentary escape from gravity (literal and figurative), and Christopher Doyle and Kathy Rain Li’s rapturous, overcast cinematography is never more so than in the skate footage: slo-mo revelries starring young bodies in motion, wordlessly themselves.
Opens March 7