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A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that, despite its focus on skateboarding, this film isn't for kids. It includes a grisly death in which a man falls on train tracks and is cut in half (the imagery is vivid and upsetting). Themes are mature as well, including divorcing parents, teen sex, guilt, remorse, and a troubled sort of "getting away with murder." The one actual sex scene is very blurry and hurried (it's the teen characters' awkward first time). To fit in, a boy drinks beer. Some strong language, including "f--k."
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What's the story?
On the day that Alex (Gabe Nevins) first goes to Paranoid Park, a Portland skaters' hangout, he worries that he's not ready. According to his best friend, Jared (Jake Miller), nobody ever is -- a caution that Alex writes down in his notebook but can't heed. A bright, restless, and vaguely disillusioned high school junior, Alex seeks community with the skaters, who are skilled, self-assured, and shot in a fluid style that illustrates his infatuation. (He's not nearly as interested in his girlfriend, played by Gossip Girl's Taylor Momsen, who's pressuring him to help her lose her virginity.) When an older kid invites him for a beer, Alex goes along -- mostly, he says, to ride the freight train. But everything changes when he's accidentally responsible for a guard's death. Left alone and unnoticed when the other boy runs off, Alex has to decide what to do when a police detective (Daniel Liu) starts asking questions.
Is it any good?
Gus Van Sant's film is as lovely and evocative as any he's made. Following Alex from shimmery school hallways to the skate park pulsing with energy, Christopher Doyle's handheld camera never pushes hard, but looks gently into Alex's eyes or tags along with him on the sidewalk, as if wondering how he came to be so sad and baffled. Though Alex can't tell anyone about the accident, he's haunted by it in the form of ghastly crime scene photos and grisly flashbacks. His onetime escape -- watching the Park skaters who appear to him as lyrical athletes -- is lost. Now he seeks not community or solace, but a way to release the weight bearing down on him.
Based on Blake Nelson's young adult novel, the movie realizes Alex's desperate, poetic point of view in layers. His halting voiceover, as if he's reading his journal entries, works well with the film's uneven editing and skips back and forth in time. And his view, so limited and naive, shapes the appearances of both adults and his friends. When he speaks with his father, who's moving his things out, the camera keeps so tight on Alex's face that his dad remains nearly unrecognizable in the background. With nowhere to turn, Alex tries confessing without confessing, sharing a vague story of guilt with a friend. When she suggests that "getting it out" is enough, whether or not anyone else hears it, he silently takes her advice, even as the film leaves the impact of that choice open.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how the movie portrays teen life (and, specifically, skaters). Do you think it's accurate? Teens: Do you ever feel like Alex? How does the movie convey what he's feeling and thinking? Families can also discuss how to handle a scary and/or overwhelming situation, in which you feel responsible but fear consequences. Who can you go to for help?
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