Palo Alto

Review by Katherine McLaughlin @Ms_K_McLaughlin

Directed by

Gia Coppola


Emma Roberts Jack Kilmer James Franco


Smells like teen nepotism.


Smells like real talent.

In Retrospect.

Smells like an assured debut.

Gia Coppola’s debut about the teen experience has a lyricism that transcends James Franco’s source novel.

The aching listlessness and the naiveté of the teen experience are united to exasperating effect in this stylish mood piece from newcomer director Gia Coppola which she has adapted from a novel written by James Franco. But be prepared to put aside your preconceptions of the unrelenting Franco content machine as Coppola does her level best with his distinctly average source material.

Influenced by her aunt Sofia, Gia casts a woozy spell via an assured aesthetic which superbly highlights the dreams and hopes of each of the kids we meet. A giant poster of The Virgin Suicides sits neatly on the wall of one of the bedrooms, were the family connection not clear enough. Though set in the present day, the rites of passage ring true on various multi-generational levels. There’s no specific revolution and nothing to fight against, but there’s still rebellion and angst a-plenty.

Coppola seems more interested in conveying the teen experience on a universal level and infusing those feelings with an everyday poetry. Yet, the characters are simplistically drawn and exist in a vague in-between world. April (Emma Roberts) is struggling to choose between an older guy, her football coach (played by James Franco who is extraordinarily creepy) and a boy her own age, Teddy (Jack Kilmer, son of Val who also makes a brief appearance), who she smokes with at parties but is too shy to find out if he reciprocates her feelings.

Teddy is on a learning curve himself, and after getting a DUI he begins community service at a library and, later, at an elderly care home where he discovers compassion and enhances his drawing skills. However, he still insists on hanging out with Fred (Nat Wolff, turning in an extremely confident performance) who seems intent on self-destruction. Fred starts a liaison with Emily (Zoe Levin) who is shackled with the moniker of school slut.

It is disheartening that Coppola has chosen to assign her female characters with the reductive virgin/whore traits to symbolise personal growth, but this is rather a fault of the source material and perhaps indicative of the fact that girls are still sadly fighting this battle at high school. Coppola does, however, allow her female characters to have some fun, particularly in her involving and involved party sequences.

Meanwhile, the boys revel and learn through their doped up chats in cars and developing artistic expression, even though their paths are often at odds. The darkness and stylisation of Francis Ford Coppola’s The Outsiders creeps in through Fred with his wild yet deeply sincere ramblings reminiscent of Ponyboy.

Coppola’s depiction of the adult world is especially effective, with their loud, overbearing voices and opinions sneakily taking the viewer out of the haze of the contemplative teen state of mind. More than anything, Coppola impressively evokes the ennui and uncertainty of teen life and her exquisite world-building skills coupled with the atmospheric music provided by Dev Hynes and Rooney ensure this dreamy piece remains captivating throughout.

Published 16 Oct 2014

Tags: Emma Roberts Gia Coppola James Franco


Smells like teen nepotism.


Smells like real talent.

In Retrospect.

Smells like an assured debut.

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