-by Karen Hansord
Palo Alto is the directorial debut of Gia Coppola, granddaughter of Francis Ford Coppola and niece of Sofia Coppola. Based on the short-story collection of the same name by James Franco, Palo Alto centres around a group of teenagers Teddy (Jack Kilmer), April (Emma Roberts), Fred (Nat Wolff) and Emily (Zoe Levin) as they struggle through relationships, high school and life.
Teddy, who has a sweet and careful crush on April, is involved in a car accident due to intoxication and is sentenced to community service. His best friend Fred is volatile and unpredictable, which creates problems for himself and Teddy constantly. April, a despondent and shy girl, becomes involved with high school soccer coach Mr B. (James Franco), a man who is just as lost as the teenagers, but whose behaviour becomes manipulative as the story progresses. And lastly Emily, a beautiful yet isolated girl who performs sexual favours in hopes of finding a loving relationship.
The film is devoid of any strong adult roles, Aprils mother is constantly saying “I love you” to her daughter, while her step-father (Val Kilmer) is a pretentious stoner – his cameo scene is hilarious. And the audience only get to meet Teddy’s mother for at least two scenes, and Fred’s father for one uncomfortably creepy scene. The lack of adults is not surprising and shows the gap between not only parents and their children, but also between an older and younger generation.
The acting is superb, Jack Kilmer’s debut role is something he should be proud of and Emma Roberts once again shows audiences that acting abilities do run in the family. However, Nat Wolff is excellent as the extremely intense Fred, becoming a favourite among the audience and although Zoe Levin is at times engulfed by Wolff’s intensity, her portrayal of Emily’s vulnerability and sadness cuts through it easily.
Palo Alto is not a film that neither glorifies nor shames the troubles of youth in the 21st century; refreshingly Gia Coppola does not attempt to interweave a social or cultural explanation for the actions of the characters. Instead the audience witness the unfolding of each narrative through a sensitive and dream-like lens, which contrasts beautifully when the moods of certain scenes suddenly turn intense or depressing. However, this is not another angst-ridden, nihilist teen film, there are genuinely funny moments, especially scenes concerning an arts teacher and a Chihuahua – although not together – and poignant moments in the film which encapsulate the desire to return to childhood or the disassociation of ones’ self.
Palo Alto is a tremendous start to Gia Coppola’s directing career and if talent does run in the family – which certainly looks like it does – then I for one am looking forward to the next film by the third generation of filmmakers.