Gus Van Sant is mostly known for his coming of age films, which are separated from the average coming of age film by his distinct filmmaking style. Ever since his first feature film, Mala Noche he has gone out side of the realm and made films in an unordinary way. It might be the camera angles, the editing, the music or lack of music. Whatever it may be his artistic choices are done beautifully and purposefully. Gus Van Sant doesn’t make a movie to look weird or unordinary, just to be different. He does it with reason, which is why the story lines of most of his well-known films are not your average Boy meets Girl.
His most recently released film, Paranoid Park, is a prime example of his film making style. The movie is about a boy in high school named Alex who accidentally kills a railroad security guard.
Within that storyline the character is also dealing with his girlfriend and another girl who he likes and who likes him. I know this sounds like a cheesy after-school special, but it’s not. Watching this film I was brought back to my days of high school and all of its wonderful awkwardness.
The acting, most particularly the character Alex, is done by your ordinary high school student. This approach can be linked to the neo-realist films where the filmmakers would shoot in real locations with real people. Most of the parts are played by actors, but using your average high school student to play a high school student gives the film a certain realism that the best actor could not deliver in the same way.
Some of the dialogue and conversations sound clumsily spoken like high school students talk. They say things like, “in life there’s different layers of like stuff.” A professional actor might have to study how high school students talk but if you use an ordinary person, then they are going to act how he normally would. When it comes to non-actors, that’s the best way to get a good performance out of them, let them be themselves.
One of my favorite scenes is early on in the film where the camera is just following one of the skaters in a skate park. The footage looks like 8mm (they probably did shoot it on 8mm) and there’s an ambience of reverse noises and people talking in French. I have no idea why they are talking in French, but the scene as a whole flows together so nicely. This is an example of Gus Van Sant’s artistic choices. The scene is a bit odd but it’s not completely bizarre. It’s smooth and soothing.
The editing of the movie as a whole has a pace that just glides along. There’s no extremely shaky camera or really fast editing. Most of the shots are long and suck you into what’s going on.
Gus Van Sant films are not for everyone. If you enjoy films that do not follow custom filmmaking procedures then you might not like Paranoid Park. I have heard people saying it was boring and the editing and acting was bad. They could be saying that because this movie just isn’t for them. Some people actually like mundane Hollywood movies. Just writing this review makes me want to go watch Paranoid Park again.