Thursday, May 22, 2014

Movie Review: Palo Alto

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.

Emma Roberts stars as April, the cute but frustrated anti-pixie dream girl, who floats adrift the halls of her suburban Palo Alto high school. She's smart, athletic and compared to her self involved friends and family, responsible. She's young but realizes something is missing from her mundane, privileged upper middle class life. Jack Kilmer plays Teddy, a brooding young artistic soul who secretly longs for her but is too shy and/or stoned to act. Teddy's best friend is a borderline psychotic named Fred (Nat Wolf) who drags him further down the path of drugs and debauchery. Judging by their personalities and how they gawk at one another, it's all but given that April and Teddy are perfect for each other. Palo Alto isn't a lovey-dovey teen romance though, instead the film follows the pair's missed connection and how they fill the void in their hearts with dangerous actions and unsavory people. Teddy has trouble with the law, April falls for her sleazy soccer coach (the always sleazy James Franco), its bad decisions 101 until the two can finally, hopefully, set each other straight.

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. 


  1. Okay I'm convinced. This really could have ended up terribly, and it sounds like it didn't. Thankfully the Smith offspring tend to only be involved when Big Daddy Fresh Prince is. Look forward to Jaden Smith in Men In Black 6.

  2. Yes! So happy you liked this one as much as I did. I thought it was really brilliant as well, and could've so easily not been. Great stuff man.