Palo Alto could have been a horrible, train wreck of a movie. If handled like a straightforward teenage melodrama, this might have ended up as nothing more than Lifetime movie of the week/soap opera posturing. Thankfully, first time director Gia Coppola has crafted an unconventionally brilliant coming of age film. Palo Alto doesn't circumvent the cliches of the "high school" film genre, instead it embraces and smothers them in a dreamy haze until they're almost unrecognizable.
Of course none of this is revolutionary. We've all seen dumb horny kids act like dumb horny kids in high school movies before (drinking, partying, rebelling, fucking pies, etc.) but the way Coppola shapes this otherwise, kind of generic story, is truly breathtaking. Palo Alto meanders and moseys along in a gloriously ethereal way. The film's gorgeous, portrait like cinematography and Devonte Hynes' brilliant dream pop soundtrack coaxes you further down the rabbit hole, while the rookie cast's passionate yet surprisingly low key performances (except for Fred, he's fucking nuts) seal the deal. Some might argue that Palo Alto doesn't go anywhere, that it's a case of all style and no substance. Well, that's kind of the point. I see the film as a reflection of a typical teenagers life. There are highs and lows but not everyone's high school experience is an exciting three act set piece with a convenient climax and resolution. Most teens do have crazy and memorable stories to tell but by and large they spend their days just existing in that awkward post-child/pre-adulthood limbo that is high school. Palo Alto isn't meant to dramatize another self important angsty story, instead it masterfully depicts the mood and atmosphere of said limbo that we all (supposedly) graduated from at one point or another in our lives.
I'm serious, this could have been the worst movie ever but thankfully Gia Coppola's genetics came through and gifted us with an awesome film (The Spectacular Now: abort yourself. please). Palo Alto isn't just an oddball ode to emo lust and weed binges, it's also an example of Hollywood nepotism done right.
Val Kilmer's son Jack stars with Julia Robert's niece Emma, in a film directed by Francis Ford Coppola's granddaughter, adapted from a story written by the eldest Franco brother (because there's two now...I guess). See how that could have totally sucked? Thank god none of the Smith's offspring were involved.