Palo Alto | Gia Coppola | May 9, 2014
Palo Alto, the debut feature from Gia Coppola (granddaughter of Francis Ford Coppola and niece of Sofia Coppola), features two best friends Teddy (Jack Kilmer, Val’s son) and Fred (Nat Wolff) parked in a garage discussing what they would do if they were in Medieval Times. The conversation ends with Fred abruptly slamming his car into the garage wall. It’s a jarring way to open the picture, and it doesn’t make sense at first, but once you sink your teeth into the rest of the brisk youthful feature, it all stars to add up.
You see, this scene doesn’t quite make sense, but either do most aspect of our lives. Coppola isn’t trying to make sense of it all, she’s just portraying it. What Copolla does have to make sense of is James Franco’s short story collection of the same name, which the film is based off of. Coppola adapts his stories for the screen, weaving in and out of different groups of teenagers within the suburban community of Palo Alto.
You have the previously mentioned Teddy and Fred, best friends but complete opposites in nature. Teddy is the kind-hearted rebel we all knew in high school, while Fred is overly aggressive and tries way to hard. Teddy crushes on the soccer playing April (Emma Roberts), who has an inappropriate flirtatious relationship with her coach Mr. B (James Franco, playing the part a bit too well), who she babysits for. Then there’s the insecure Emily (Zoe Levin), who is so desperate for attention that she will put herself out there sexually thinking that will help boys fall in love with her. We all knew versions of these characters in some way, shape, or form.
Copolla interweaves these characters stories in a sleepy manner, giving the film a whimsical approach, credit to stylish cinematographer Autumn Durald. Throw in a appropriate 80s new-wave score provided by Devonté Hynes (a.k.a. Blood Orange), and the mood is set. The charm of Palo Alto is in the way it basks in the glow of its teenage youth. We see them struggle with love, sex, partying, and figuring out who they are. We’ve all been there.
The script has its fair share of shortcomings, but the young actors that its all built around do more than enough to keep things afloat. In a film and cast built around nepotism, I was taken aback at how talented Jack Kilmer is. He just has that natural rock star charisma and calm coolness about him that you can’t teach. Nat Wolff is good enough to get under your skin in a role that’s a complete about face from the character he played in The Fault In Our Stars. Emma Roberts and Zoe Levin offer fine work, and James Franco is very much James Franco, whether you like it or not.
Coppola isn’t handing out imminent life lessons or hidden messages, but instead, letting us relive the moments of our youth through these teenagers. We see a bit of ourselves in them and their situations, reminding us of the youth we once had, and how it made us into who we are today. She does it with such grace and confidence that I couldn’t help but get swept up in it all.