Palo Alto is based on a short story collection by James Franco, who published these after his own Silicon Valley Childhood in 2010. The movie is focused on four high school kids whose lives all meet via friendship, romance and lust but ultimately gives different point of view of the American teenager experience.  Gia Coppola, the director proves to have an eye for natural storytelling instinct of her kin serving up a remarkably nice  and solid debut directorial job  with this film.

Teddy (Jack Kilmer), who is a fresh faced slacker that lets his life be dictated to him by circumstance and his rough best friend Fred (Nat Wolff). As a boy who was born on the wrong side of the tracks from an eccentric father (Chris Messina), Fred is the kind frustrated young man who at 17 knows his life is going to end in disappointment. Teddy was caught driving under the influence (DUI) by his mate instead of staying at the party with his not so secret crush, April (Emma Watson). April, is also going through her own life’s drama as the star soccer player at her high school and is the apple of her coach’s eye. But this makes things very confusing when Mr. B (James Franco), a single dad who hired April to babysit for him starts making moves with her with a kiss and then another and  there is  Emily (Zoe Levin), the most fleeting and interesting character in the movie.

Palo Alto 2014

Palo Alto 2014

The movie is a broken mixture of the ritualized anxiety all adolescents face. Coppola (director), on the whole strives for originality not often found in the teen subgenre, which is seen in her mostly young cast. The decision leads to some mixed results since Jack Kilmer, the 19 year old son of Val Kilmer believably portrays the suffering of Teddy, but stumbles in creating a person beyond that agony of capricious hormones. Wolff fairs better by demonstrating once again that he is a young actor to watch out for. He was the best among last year’s movie, Stuck in Love. He creates an amazing portrait of a growing man filled with pent up anger at the world. He could be in the closet but is ultimately too emotionally twisty to fully read. It is a great realization of a guy that everyone knew in school and one that Coppola and company will try to distance themselves from by the end credits.

One of Fred’s outbreaks comes at the repeated expense of Emily, a complex character of several personalities in Franco’s book. In Palo Alto, you never spend enough time with her to get a full discovery on the character which maybe why she is so intriguing and lingers longer than others. She is an easy going time girl at her high school, she lets herself be used and abused by several boys throughout the film but is given remarkable sympathy and understanding by Coppola who idles on her bedroom set during one time Fred is invited over for a visit. Still littered with toys, animals and several childhood paraphernalia, Emily is meant to be a sympathetic ode to the suburban princess that is not ready for adult decisions. Levin uses her limited screen time very well and one wishes Coppola could explore this obvious interest further.

Palo Alto 2014 Movie Trailer

The movie is a decent film with notable performances that give stimulating but detached view of a time when everyone felt removed from their friends. The movie can be said to be one of the best movies ever made about high school life in America burning the lines between how unique it is to be a teenager and how universal it is to feel like one.

Category: Movies

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