Palo Alto

Director: Gia Coppola

Starring: Emma Roberts, James Franco, Jack Kilmer, Nat Wolff, Zoe Levin

Certificate: TBC

Synopsis: Shy, sensitive April (Emma Roberts) is the class virgin, torn between an illicit flirtation with her soccer coach Mr. B (James Franco) and an unrequited crush on sweet stoner Teddy (Jack Kilmer). Emily (Zoe Levin), meanwhile, offers sexual favors to every boy to cross her path — including both Teddy and his best friend Fred (Nat Wolff), a live wire without filters or boundaries. 

PALO ALTO is the directorial debut from the granddaughter of Francis Ford Coppola, Gia Coppola, and is based on a book of short stories written by James Franco. It’s a modern, vivid take on the age-old story of teenage struggles with just about everything. The feeling of invincibility versus the anger, confusion and boredom of these characters is brought to the screen with life and vigour in Coppola’s debut.

Nat Wolff is fast becoming one of our favourite young actors starring in teen movies impressing with roles in STUCK IN LOVE and THE FAULT IN OUR STARS. His charisma and ability to inhabit characters are great to watch. He faces some difficulty in PALO ALTO as, perhaps due to the nature of the short stories, there is a complete dichotomy in Fred that is never satisfyingly dealt with or explained but he manages to overcome this and play each facet of his character’s personality with believability. Newcomer Jack Kilmer (son of Val, who also has a small role in the movie) is a great addition to the cast as budding artist Teddy who is often steered off track by his more dangerous companion. A lack of consequences for almost all the teens’ behaviour does push the film into murky waters in terms of credibility but it’s not so apparent so as to detract from the overall tone which is a convincing one.

Inevitably with adapting a selection of short stories there are strands that don’t work as well and the relationship between April and her soccer coach (played by James Franco) removes the focus from the adolescents and is a weaker story arc because of it. There are however enough intricacies in other plot lines to overcome this with an climatic last few minutes providing an ending to leave you thinking,

First time director Gia Coppola shows an ability to encapsulate a time period that many find difficult; the transition from child to adulthood. The uncertainty and confusion that comes with the territory of being a teen is never looked down upon, simply explored. It’s not a perfect movie but PALO ALTO is a strong debut from Coppola.

[usr=4] PALO ALTO is currently touring on the film festival circuit. Check their official site for information.

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