By Simon Abrams/L Magazine
As tedious as it normally is to watch overprivileged twentysomethings stuck in a creative rut find their way out by finding romance (on film, that is; in real life, voyeurism totally rules), there's somehow always room for one more film to defy that tried-and-true expectation. The Paranoids, co-writer/director Gabriel Medina's portrait of a wiry, mullet-sporting angry young Argentinean with an autistic artistic temperament, is both lively and brooding, alternating between taking its protagonist's all-too-relatable perfectionist, antisocial tendencies deathly seriously, and taking the piss out of them (as in a dream sequence that liberally paraphrases Taoist philosophy, and one of the most dramatic video game boxing matches on film). Medina is sincere about recreating his protagonist's worldview, but he also has the proper distance to recognize that it's the stuff of bittersweet comedy.
It should come as no surprise that The Paranoids is in part based on Medina's own youth. Luciano Gauna (an excellent Daniel Hendler), a budding screenwriter unable to finish a script he's been working on for years, is a control freak. It's how he struggles to cope with knowing that his best friend Manuel (Walter Jakob) has already made a big splash with his own TV show-cum-overnight franchise while he's stuck dressing up as a big purple monster suit for children's parties (Barney he ain't). And he has a thing for Manuel's girlfriend Sofia (Jazmin Stuart). And he can't dance (he's got this windmill thing going with his right arm but it could be he's just used too much Tiger Balm).
Thankfully, The Paranoids, a film about a character constantly striving to maintain emotional equilibrium in his mopey little life, is so good at walking its protagonist's volatile tight rope. Hendler has a hungry look in his eyes that sustains many of his character's repressed, passive-aggressive confrontations, which always boil down to a stare and a pout anyway. Medina knows just how hard it is for Luciano to experience life outside of his terms and perfectly mimics that impulse in his meticulous pacing and camera blocking. The aforementioned video game battle is one of the funniest contemporary expressions of the phallocentric contest that is the love triangle, the romantic comedy's standby representation of sexual tension. It's surprisingly tense, more than a little silly, and filmed with a Fincheresque OCD precision—everything a comedy about a twenty-something's bruised ego should have in a nutshell.
- Director: Gabriel Medina
- Cast: Daniel Hendler, Jazmín Stuart, Walter Jakob (In Spanish w/ subtitles)
- Rated: Not Rated
- Running time: 98 minutes
Though there are some differences in tone—and a refreshing lack of impromptu convenience-store dance numbers set to “My Sharona”—the Argentinean romantic triangle The Paranoids has the same basic dynamic as Reality Bites, and the same message about young adults holding onto their scruffy integrity. Daniel Hendler plays the Ethan Hawke character, a soulful, unkempt apartment-dweller whose screenwriting aspirations are thwarted by equal parts crippling fear and general unwillingness to engage with the outside world. Walter Jakob plays the Ben Stiller slickster, a superficially charming cad whose runaway success as a TV producer in Spain includes selling out Hendler. That leaves Jazmín Stuart in the Winona Ryder role, dissatisfied with being Jakob’s arm candy and drawn to the somewhat elusive charms of a slacker who can barely peel himself off the couch.
With his feature debut, writer-director Gabriel Medina stops blessedly short of making a big generational statement, but The Paranoids does a fine job of evoking youth culture and attitudes in Buenos Aires, which here doesn’t seem that different from the scene in Park Slope or Los Feliz. Medina has more trouble revealing anything surprising about the three lead characters, who don’t evolve much from their initial impression. Hendler is given the most to do as the chief paranoiac of the title, but Medina substitutes an assemblage of odd quirks—irrational fears of STDs and his doorman, a job as the world’s glummest children’s entertainer—for a clearly defined hero. Still, The Paranoids summons a scuzzy, winning nocturnal ambience, particularly when Hendler breaks out of his funk, hits the dance floor, and does his best impression of Michael Stipe in the “Losing My Religion” video. For a few brief moments, he and the movie transcend their four-walled ennui.
Pity poor Luciano, the sad-sack aspiring screenwriter played with twitchy, wild-eyed charm by Daniel Hendler in “The Paranoids,” a deadpan slacker comedy from Argentina. A children’s entertainer who dresses up in a furry purple suit to play a comic-book character at parties, Luciano is such a sloppy entertainer that he falls asleep on the job.
Although an extreme hypochondriac, he smokes and drinks to excess. During a bout of vomiting after an all-night binge he pleads for an ambulance. He obsesses that a casual fling with a woman may have left him disease ridden, although he has no symptoms of sexually transmitted diseases.
So nervous that he can fly off the handle at a moment’s notice, Luciano sends his business partner, Sherman (Martin Feldman), to the hospital after accidentally slamming a door on his neck; he throws a tantrum in a grocery store when the owner refuses to exchange some bad wine he returns. Yet for all his infuriatingly neurotic self-sabotage, Mr. Hendler makes Luciano such a lovable loser that you root for him to get over himself.
“The Paranoids,” directed by Gabriel Medina from a screenplay by Mr. Medina and Nicolas Gueilburt, plays like a dawdling sitcom that strings together small incidents into not very much. At its most cohesive it examines a potentially toxic friendship between Luciano and his childhood buddy Manuel (Walter Jakob) who returns to Buenos Aires from Madrid, where he has created a hit television series, “The Paranoids.”
Manuel subtly lords his success over Luciano, who has been working forever on a still-unfinished screenplay. Manuel drags along a beautiful, glum girlfriend, Sofia (Jazmin Stuart), who remains in Buenos Aires while Manuel goes to Chile on a business trip.
While his friend is away, Luciano discovers that the series’s main character, a laughingstock, is based on him. Upon returning, Manuel loftily offers Luciano a lucrative job adapting “The Paranoids” into an Argentine movie. Luciano demurs. The ugly undercurrents of their friendship come to the fore when they compete in a boxing video game.
“The Paranoids” is so well-acted and has such a keen eye for detail (the Ramones poster in Luciano’s apartment certifies his flailing negativity) that you expect its pieces to jell into something larger. But just like its main character, this smart, slyly witty movie with few laughs undersells itself.
Opens on Friday in Manhattan.
Directed by Gabriel Medina; written by Mr. Medina and Nicolas Gueilburt; director of photography, Lucio Bonelli; edited by Nicolas Goldbart; music by Guillermo Guareschi; art director, Sebastian Roses; produced by Sebastian Aloi; released by Oscilloscope Laboratories. In Spanish, with English subtitles. At Cinema Village, 22 East 12th Street, Greenwich Village. Running time: 1 hour 38 minutes. This film is not rated.
WITH: Daniel Hendler (Luciano Gauna), Jazmin Stuart (Sofia), Walter Jakob (Manuel Sinovieck), Martin Feldman (Sherman) and Miguel Dedovich (Dodi).