Palo Alto Review

Posted 9 years ago by myetvmedia

Palo Alto marks the directorial debut from Gia Coppola, granddaughter of prolific filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola. Adapted from James Franco’s collection of short stories about Northern California teenagers, Palo Alto proves to be a visual gem about current youth culture that doesn’t try too hard to beat you over the head with an allegorical lesson.

With a killer ensemble cast including; Emma Roberts, James Franco, Val Kilmer, Nat Wolff and newcomer, Jack Kilmer. Coppola has called in a lineup of talent that work harmoniously together to create the most realistic dramatic depiction of current youth culture ever presented in the last decade. In the sub-genre of “The kids aren’t alright”, Palo Alto is far more delicate and deliberate with it’s under 18 portrayals than some of its more recent racy and ostentatious counterparts like ‘Spring Breakers’ or Sofia Coppola’s ‘The Bling Ring’. Rather than embellishing or scandalizing, Palo Alto sets out to show the often self destructive yet sometimes anti-climactic road from childhood to adulthood: a road full of deflowering virgins, weed smoking, self exploration and encounters with the law. Dramatic yet often refreshingly humorous, Palo Alto draws on real teenage experiences and allows the humor to stem organically from conversations centered around time-travel, children’s novels, vandalism, sex and sexuality. Coppola allowed her young actors to improvise and play with the script and language to create a diction that’s true to the youth of today.

Following three chapters from Franco’s novel “Jack-O”, “Emily” and the three part story, “April” viewers are taken into an expedition into the young characters’ evolving formation of self. Main character, April played by Emma Roberts in her best role to date, is a typical soccer playing teen. She plays sports, does her homework, lives with a loving mother, sometimes goes to parties, makes out with boys, occasionally drinks booze and eventually has a relationship with her emotionally “troubled-sleazy-yet likable” older soccer coach, Mr.B played by Franco. While Coppola had the opportunity to drive home the indignation of the implied statutory rape situation,  instead she allows the relationship to play out it’s course without much backlash. The characters are allowed to have an almost private experience as a result of the event that colours them from then on yet never overshadows. Newcomer Jack Kilmer sets himself apart from his Hollywood lineage (parents are Val Kilmer and British actress Joanne Whalley) with a surprising and touching portrayal of Teddy: an awkward teenage boy with an artistic flair and underlying currents of immense emotional depth. Naked Brother’s Band star, Nat Wolff is all grown up as perturbed and destructive Fred who creates some of the film’s most interesting depictions of troubled youth.

Applying perfected elements of slow and almost uncomfortable pacing mixed with dreamy visuals created by director of photography; Autumn Durald and a cool original synthy sound track by Robert Schwartzman and Devonte Hynes, Coppola allows moments to linger on too long to great effect. For some this drawn out form feels unstructured and uncomfortable, yet for any of us that can easily recall our teens it almost feels sincere to the way our teenage years unfolded: awkwardly, beautifully, painfully and disjointed.This mash up of hypnotic visuals,contemporary soundtrack and play on pacing allows the film to flow in almost a poetic way. It invokes the true spirit of youth and all of it’s confusing and blundering encounters with emotions and exploration of self. The film premiered at the 70th Venice International Film Festival and then had its North American premiere in Toronto at TIFF13.

Lauren Schell

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