Last year, I read Blake Nelson's Paranoid Park, a teen novel of skateboarding and suspense. It was dark, to be sure, captivating, and confident in its way around the world of teens. It was, however, a novel that lived largely inside the mind of its main character, a boy accidentally involved in the death of a security guard.
In it a teen skater - but a Prep, not a Streeter - first goes to an underground skatepark, he thinks it is amazing. But the next time, he and a Streeter get into a bad situation that ends in a death. An accident, but mostly his fault, and a horrible, gory accident, at that. The bulk of the book deals with the aftermath of this andhow he handles it.
The book has a really realistic feel to it, how this massive guilty secret colours everything in the kid's life, how it is never out of his mind, how he wrestles with the idea of telling, of turning himself in, and thinks about who it would affect. How he is careful, guarded, all the time and doesn't feel like he can be open to anyone, in any way, really. How frightened he is when the police ask questions. In the end, the first person narrative is composed of letters written to one person he feels comfortable with, though he doesn't really know her all that well.
This was a good book, even though it made me tense, because it keeps you in suspense. The emotions of it are clear and believable, and while it seems on the surface like it suggests you can get away with stuff, I think it really does a good job of showing how high a price you really pay on the inside and how it cuts you off from people around you, making it actually a good cautionary tale.
I wondered, then, when I saw that a movie had been made of the novel - how would they pull it off? It is a difficult feat to make a movie that is so focussed on the internal without losing your audience. Director Gus van Sant does have a strong history of making the sort of movie that deals with teen coming of age moments and alienation, as demonstrated in cult favourite My Own Private Idaho and one of my own favourites, Good Will Hunting.
What have reviewers thought? Well, the film has done well at film festivals, to be sure. At Cannes, it was nominated for a prestigious Palme D'Or Award and won a 60th anniversary award, and then won a producer's award at the Independent Spirit Awards, where it was also nominated for best features abd best director awards, as well as performing well in Toronto's own film festival last fall. Wide release, however, has seen reviews that are a little lukewarm, with most reviewers pointing to the slightly slow action.
Have you seen it? Add your own two cents - I'd love to hear what you thought.