Palo Alto: Movie Review
Cast: James Franco, Emma Roberts, Jack Kilmer, Zoe Levin, Nat Wolff
Director: Gia Coppola
Written from a series of tales written by James Franco, Palo Alto is another take on the nihilistic teens in the American school system.
American Horror Story star Emma Roberts is April, the shy, sensitive girl who finds herself in the middle of the high school horrors of life. From parents who are distant and appear disinterested to a suitor whose unrequited crush is hard to handle, April's trying to negotiate her way through it all.
Further complicating things is a flirtation with James Franco's Mr B, a girl's soccer coach, for whom she babysits. Also part of the high school puzzle is stoner Teddy (played by newcomer Jack Kilmer) whose friendship with out of control Fred (Wolff) sees him on probation.
As the group spirals from one party to the next, and from one school day to another, their lives intersect and cross over in ways that are unimagined.
If you like your movies feeling a little aimless and without real consequence or closure, then Palo Alto is the film for you. Drifting from one sequence to the next, this series of vignettes will be polarising to many.
Sure, it's stylishly put together and seems very arthouse in its intentions, with some good solid performances - but it's never quite as engaging as perhaps it could be. Franco is a little goofy and dare I say it, creepy in his interactions with Emma Roberts' April, who captures the restlessness of the lost teen to a tee. Kilmer, whose dad appears in a brief hazy cameo, is the main revelation though, turning in a performance as Teddy, a teen who's trapped by his life and those around him. The interactions with the self-destructive Fred (Wolff) make for some of the best parts of the film as an all-too familiar story plays out its tragic tendencies in between all the talking rubbish, believing you're invincible and unstoppable. Equally, Fred's relationship with good girl gone bad Emily (Levin) rings true and aches with teens unable to find any form of identity.
A lack of resolution, meandering plots and stories may make for a good novella, but it makes for a divisive time at the movies, no matter how well shot and put together by Gia Coppola this may be. While the kids - and even the adults - assume no responsibility for any of their actions, making it hard for us to latch on to any of the cast.
Ultimately, Palo Alto paints a depressing picture of American youth, stuck in a perpetual haze of drink and drugs, lost in lust and desperately in search of an identity. It's pretty much a stylistically-shot universal tale of growing up, but the fecklessness may prove to be a trying cinematic experience for some.