An introverted writer’s failure to define himself positively to the world leads to others framing his persona to their own advantage in The Paranoids, a frustratingly underdeveloped Argentinian dramedy about the perils of emotional retreat. Thirtyish, struggling screenwriter Luciano (Daniel Hendler) doesn’t exactly fit the mold of a paranoid personality, but his pronounced penchant for creating mini-crises out of interpersonal mishaps (a one-night stand leaves him stressed about the possibility of STDs, a confrontation with an angry doorman is blown out of proportion) is one of the few easily identifiable features of his otherwise near-autistic disposition, another being a tendency toward self-abasement in his unequal friendship with macho pal Manuel (Walter Jakob), a hugely successful television producer who’s always accompanied by female companions. Manuel’s unauthorized appropriation of his loser friend’s personal peccadillos for the lead character of what becomes a hit show called The Paranoids is one of two unlikely contrivances drummed up by first-time director Gabriel Medina to artificially propel this thinnest of slacker genre narratives forward, the other being the shoe-horned introduction of Manuel’s saintly girlfriend Sofia (Jazmin Stuart) into Luciano’s sedentary, apartment-bound orbit while Manuel is conveniently overseas on business for a long stretch of time.
Medina’s declining to allow his purportedly semi-autobiographical main character physical dimensions befitting a writer committed to the couch potato life is forgivable, though accepting Hendler—a Romain Duris lookalike—as a character who spends most waking hours playing video games in a cloud of pot smoke and who’s openly mocked by female acquaintances for anti-social tendencies requires suspension of disbelief. More damaging to Hendler’s portrayal than his helplessly studly appearance is the near absence of any overarching motivation for his character at script level; whether toughing it out at his predictably humiliating day job as a man-in-a-monster-suit for children’s parties or shaking out the stress in long sequences of wordless club dancing at night, Luciano is a character devoid of perceptible goals or a desire for self-improvement, a condition that barely changes even when the beautiful Sofia begins practically throwing herself at him. Appropriately, the film’s most successful sequence is a near-wordless seduction in dual close-ups between smitten Sofia and clueless Luciano as they get stoned on his ratty couch, with cinematographer Lucio Bonelli luxuriating over thick curls of smoke and furtive glances to sell a palpable magnetism; it’s a singular scene that concocts erotic and dramatic tension entirely through atmosphere. The rest of the film, however, is enough to make one wonder if the word mumblecore translates into Spanish.