Based on James Franco’s first book of short stories, Gia Coppola’s auspicious directorial debut features a knock-out cast (including Franco, Emma Roberts, and Zoe Levin) and immerses us in the tangled lives of teenagers living in the eponymous Californian city.
Based on prolific actor and all-round polymath James Franco's first book of short stories, Palo Alto immerses us in the lives of a number of teenagers living in the eponymous Californian city. The narratives that entwine through this observant and occasionally alarming film reflect events from Franco's own adolescence, yet they speak to any generation, with kids drawn toward vice for its own sake, seeking some combination of cheap thrills and meaningful connection. The film starts with Fred (Nat Wolff ) driving a car into a wall — on purpose. That's not the craziest thing Fred will do.
Among Palo Alto's complicated characters is Teddy (Jack Kilmer, whose father Val makes a highly memorable cameo appearance). We see Teddy drive drunk and become moronically obnoxious with a police officer; later, when he's logging community-service hours at a local library, he is tender and curious. Palo Alto's most sympathetic character is April (Emma Roberts), a babysitter who has an affair with her employer, Mr. B. (Franco), also the school football coach. April clearly has good sense, but how can a teenager be expected not to fall in love when an older, charming man showers her with affection?
Managing Palo Alto's tangle of stories
and themes would challenge a seasoned
veteran. That the film feels so unified,
fluid, and mature, so stylish yet unfussy,
says something about the innate skills and
wisdom of its first-time director. The latest
member of the world's most revered
filmmaking dynasty to enter the family
business, Gia Coppola proves herself as
deft and distinctive as her grandfather,
aunt, and uncle.