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New Release Review - Palo Alto

Drama following four troubled high schoolers in suburban California.

Directed by: Gia Coppolla

Starring: Emma Roberts, James Franco, Jack Kilmer, Nat Wolff, Zoe Levin, Val Kilmer, Chris Messina, Keegan Allen







Adapted from James Franco's short story collection, Palo Alto is one of the more incestuous film productions to arrive in some time. Director Gia Coppola is the granddaughter of Francis Ford (whose voice makes a cameo here) and niece of fellow director Sofia. Emma Roberts is the daughter of actor Eric, and niece of Julia. Jack Kilmer is the son of Val (who appears in a cameo here, and is looking more and more like Colonel Kurtz every year) and Joanne Whalley. In smaller roles we have Michael Madsen's son and the sisters of Peter Bogdanovich and Francis Ford Coppola. If anyone knows about upper middle class life in California, it should be this lot.
The movie focuses primarily on two high schoolers, April (Roberts, who seems to have been playing teens for over a decade now, yet still convinces) and Teddy (Kilmer), both of whom are suffering through the existential funk known as the teen years. Teddy has long been in love with April, but she only has eyes for Mister B (Franco), the dreamy, yet creepy as hell, coach of her school soccer team. Mister B is quite happy to reciprocate April's affections, and the two embark on a secret affair, April visiting B's house under the pretense of babysitting. Teddy, meanwhile, finds himself serving community service for his involvement in a traffic collision while drunk. This gives him a chance to explore his artistic talents, drawing portraits of the members of a retirement home, while also manning a children's library.
Two other teens, Fred (Wolff) and Emily (Levin), drift in and out of the story. Fred's a troublemaker who does his best to lead Teddy astray. Emily has been labelled the school slut for her free and easy sexuality. Of all four lead characters, it's Emily who seems the most intriguing, yet she's the least developed, and while the other three share some degree of resolution to their story arcs, Emily merely disappears into the Southern California smog.
All four young actors are highly impressive, especially given the mediocre material they have to work with. These kids are little more than stereotypes, Breakfast Clubbers out of time, and their storylines feel like they were adapted from a series of 1970s 'Afterschool Specials.' It's not difficult to imagine a teacher showing his class Palo Alto as part of a 'Scared Straight' offensive.
Gia's film shares a similar backdrop and milieu with her aunt's middle class teens gone wild flick, The Bling Ring, and the general aesthetic isn't all that different either, with lots of dusky close-ups set to an electro pop soundtrack.
Based on this, it seems Franco's literary hero is JD Salinger, as he gives us not one, but four Holden Caulfields. That's this reviewer's idea of hell, and there are irritating stretches of Palo Alto where we're simply watching teens behaving like sociopaths. That said, Coppola and her young cast make the best of a bad lot and Palo Alto may well be remembered as the movie in which we first took note of some of tomorrow's most interesting stars.
6/10
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