Gia Coppola’s debut feature, “Palo Alto,” is a well-made but ultimately slight depiction of high school life in Palo Alto, Calif. Based on the book of short stories by actor James Franco (who also has a small role), “Palo Alto” mainly centers on three restless, angst-ridden teenagers as they navigate their way through various social situations in high school life.
There’s April (Emma Roberts), the timid, good girl who’s somewhat attracted to her benevolent and hip soccer coach Mr. B (Franco). Then, there are the two self-destructive males, who have all sorts of angst and restlessness: Teddy (Jack Kilmer), who seems to be upset that he’s not getting anywhere with April and, as a result, gets into trouble with the law; and Teddy’s friend, Fred (Nat Wolff), who appears to have a bone to pick with life in general, so he alienates himself from his friends.
In fact, that’s a good way to describe all three of these characters’ actions in the movie: They all intentionally alienate themselves from regular high school social life. They may interact with other normal high school students (like two attractive, gossiping gals) and attend parties, but they never really seem to fit in at any of these social gatherings, remaining right on the fringe.
There are a lot of shots of them by themselves, silently staring off into the distance, contemplating their existence.
The film also doesn’t have much direction because these teenagers don’t have much direction themselves. They don’t appear to have any long-term goals or aspirations. Their parents aren’t much help: They’re either absent or they don’t really care, oftentimes just sitting around smoking weed, while their kids do the same.
Gia Coppola, the granddaughter of Hollywood director Francis Ford Coppola niece of director/actor Sofia Coppola, already has a fairly acute eye and ear for teenage life. All of the situations feel down-to-earth and the dialogue exchanges come off authentic, like in the opening scene when Teddy and Fred just sit in their car drinking. For the most part, nothing feels overdone or artificial.
The acting is also on par, all of the players looking and sounding like real teenagers.
Other than that, “Palo Alto” is a competent film, but it’s not very deep, and it comes off rather insignificant. This isn’t exactly new ground that Coppola is covering, and she doesn’t do enough with the material to take it to the next level. After a while, it is sort of difficult to remain fully invested in them because they are, in the end, just spoiled Palo Alto teenagers in need of an extracurricular activity.
Nevertheless, “Palo Alto” is a fine first feature and continues to show that the Coppola family has immense filmmaking talent.
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