It's a recurring, if minor artistic theme: the talented fuck-up languishes in obscurity while the glad-handing hack, inspired by if not blatantly ripping off the more talented one, enjoys success. It was the conflict at the center of the documentary Dig, wth Anton Newcombe of the Brian Jonestown Massacre and The Dandy Warhols taking on versions of those respective roles. The theme is picked up by Argentine director Gabriel Medina in The Paranoids, but this moody film tends to meander in all but expected directions.
The ability to enjoy The Paranoids rests, probably, in one's willingness to spend 90 minutes in the company of its main character, Luciano Gauna. He occasionally ventures out as a lavender-furred monster to entertain children by day and struggles to complete a long-belabored screenplay by his near-perpetual night. When it comes to the travails of a seemingly talented but underachieving man-child, I think I know several people who might say, "No thanks, I gave at the office." Understandable perhaps, but that would be a shame.
Luciano's appeal (or lack thereof) rests on the none-too-broad shoulders of Daniel Hendler, who plays Luciano Gauna. Somewhere in the kinetic discontent of the skinny frame swimming around in jeans and a t-shirt, in the nervous movement of hands, the roostery near-mohawk of hair flopping down in his face, perhaps because of the cobalt eyes (that rarely look at anyone directly) under the bushy eyebrows and above the face's permastubble, there's an air of intelligence and crooked appeal. Again, this may depend upon your perspective.
One of the women drawn to our diffident friend is Sofia, the girlfriend of his old friend (or at least acquaintance) Manuel. It is in the apartment of Manuel's deceased grandmother in which Luciano lives in a kind of college student squalor. Manuel has returned to Buenos Aires after making a success of himself in Madrid with a television show called The Paranoids. What he has failed to tell Luciano is that he has appropriated not only his name, but his indentity for a character in the show. Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not trying to steal your identity. The revelation comes out while Sofia is crashing with Luciano for a couple of days while the unctuous Manuel is off wheeling and dealing in Chile.
Typical of Medina's approach (he co-wrote the script as well as directing the film), there's nothing typical about the relationship that develops between Luciano and Sofia. At first meeting, Sofia seems disdainful of Luciano. But as they spend time together, she admits that she at first didn't know how to respond to someone she knew first as a t.v. character. During the couple of days of their living together, Sofia's interest in the real Luciano starts to reveal itself. For his part, Luciano is like a skittish animal who needs to get used anything or anyone new to his cloistered environment. The acknowledgement of his attraction comes later.
Toward film's end, Luciano wanders into a Buenos Aires club in which Manuel's production company is holding a party. He's come to see Sofia. When Manuel is pulled away to attend to some business, Luciano and Sofia find themselves standing together as a band begins its set. As the bouncy synth pop gets going, so does a dance between the unlikely pair. As the the song and their dance grow more intense, the two seem to move in perfect cadence to their personalities and desire for each other. Much as a dancefloor has been used countless times in films to represent a couple playing out their illicit or yet unexpressed desire for one another, I don't know that I've ever seen it done in such mesmerizing fashion. I wish the film had ended right there.
Alas, that's not the case. But much as The Paranoids resorts to some last minute romantic convention, what transpires up to that point is an awfully refreshing alternative to so much of the clunking mediocrity that's been available on the big screen so far this winter. Find this one if you can.
A note on the trailer - If it ever was an art form, the art of trailers has gone the way of shoemaking and letter writing. This makes everything look much more simplistic than is the case. But for the sake of having a few visuals...