A teenage skateboarder has a run-in with a security guard that results in the man’s death. Confused, fearful, and evasive, the teen wanders the streets of Portland as his life takes a turn for the worse in director Gus Van Sant’s screen adaptation of author Blake Nelson’s grim coming-of-age tome. Alex is a withdrawn 16-year-old boy who has recently discovered Paranoid Park — a massive skate park in Portland. The Portland skate punks built Paranoid Park so they could have a place to cruise the concrete without being hassled by the cops. One day, after befriending a local skater and anarchist at the park, Alex decides that a little adventure might be just the thing to help him forget about his problems back home. When Alex and his new friend attempt to hop a train and a security guard gives chase, tragedy strikes so quickly that the two teens are barely able to comprehend what has just happened. In the aftermath of the fatal accident, one man is robbed of life and two teens are left to ponder the consequences of their youthful recklessness. Alex doesn’t think that anyone will believe him if he explains how events really unfolded that night, but why would anyone have cause to think he wasn’t telling the truth in the first place? As the police launch an investigation into the death and Alex begins to express himself in a deeply personal diary, the audience is able to experience the pain and confusion of adolescence from the perspective of a young boy who was only seeking to escape from reality when suddenly confronted by the concept of mortality.
A teenage art-flick, Paranoid Park proves the most fluent and coherent of Gus Van Sant’s recent experiments. Part crime mystery, part coming-of-age story, it’s positively overflowing with burnished imagery and adolescent turmoil.