Gia Coppola decided to follow in the rather large footsteps of her grandfather Francis Ford Coppola (The Godfather) and aunt Sofia Coppola (The Virgin Suicides); as of last year, she wrote her first feature film based on Palo Alto, a collection of short stories by James Franco, and turned them into her directorial debut. Despite its lack of box office success, the film beautifully encapsulates the blur and confusion of the late high school years, no matter how extreme some of the plotlines become.
Palo Alto follows the lives of a group of Californian teens: the seemingly innocent April (Emma Roberts), loveable rogue Teddy (Jack Kilmer) and their crazed friend Fred (Nat Wolff). They lead lives fuelled by alcohol and drugs, with a distinct lack of parental guidance. April and Teddy struggle to decipher their feelings for one another as April gets led astray by her football coach and teacher Mr B (James Franco), and Teddy by Fred’s tragic life decisions.
Though the film could easily be passed off as your typical coming-of-age film, it becomes so much more as deeper social problems are explored. Without passing judgement, Coppola gives you leeway to understand why the characters commit some of their reckless actions.
At times, the plot seems to stray here and there; despite Wolff’s fabulous performance, Fred’s antics and scenes with on-off lover Emily (Zoe Levin) seem forced into the narrative and take the film off course. However, this doesn’t stop you from being drawn into the stories of April and Teddy which feel smooth and perfected.
Starring in his debut performance as Teddy, Palo Alto allows Jack Kilmer to step out of his father’s (Val Kilmer) shadow. He gives the character a lovableness that draws forgiveness for his wrongdoings throughout the film. He perfectly portrays Teddy’s lack of direction from the very beginning of his story, with his character allowing Fred to almost live half his life vicariously through Teddy. Kilmer is definitely well placed at the helm of the film, steering the cast with ease and precision.
Want to check out Palo Alto? The film is now streaming on Netflix.
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