Based on the James Franco penned short stories book of the same name, Palo Alto focuses on the lives of teenagers April (Emma Roberts), Fred (Nat Wolff) Teddy (Jack Kilmer – relative newcomer and yes Val Kilmer’s son) and Emily (Zoe Levin) as they make their way through teenage life, partying, working in libraries, messing up and other dramas.
Palo Alto is also the first movie from the youngest film-making member of the Coppola family, Gia, who directed the movie as well as writing the screen play. Her previous film exploits have been pretty much limited to playing Connie’s Granddaughter in Godfather 2 at the age of three, this can see as quite a bold move for a first movie.
The film fetishizes and celebrates it’s young female characters in a way that it’s very hard to not compare the film to Gia’s aunt’s (Sophia) movies, in particular The Virgin Suicides and Lost in Translation. But there is something quite charming in the way the film does this. There are scenes of April hanging out in her bedroom prancing around being a natural teenager, the scenes are engaging. There’s something very honest and real in they way that Roberts plays the character and her acting is definitely what drives the movie.
Jack Kilmer’s Teddy is fantastic too, and for a newcomer is a highlight, with his cute boyish indie boy looks it’s no wonder that Teen Vogue is calling him your new favourite indie actor, he is definitely a poster boy for the Rookie Mag generation. I imagine this is the start of a beautiful career, and if the acting career doesn’t take off, with that hair and the guitar skills he displays in the movie, I’m sure he can join a band or something.
Nat Wolff (The Fault in Our Stars, Admission) plays the gregarious, racist and definitely insane Fred. Fred is a very lost and complex character who does a bunch of dreadful things throughout the movie. He loses it at the end, probably cause he realizes he’s a shitty person. It’s hard to find any sympathy with his character, but at least we can cheer on Emily when she finally gets her revenge.
James Franco of course makes an appearance as April’s football team coach Mr B, who together embark on an illicit affair. Franco plays the sleezy, desperate, older man so well, and the scenes between himself and Roberts are electric and tense. For once the cocky self-assured pretty boy Franco is played down and you can really see the loneliness in Mr B, particularly when he rather cringe worthily confesses of his love for April.
Highlights include a rather hilarious cameo from Val Kilmer who plays April’s stoner stepfather, one of the many dispersed comedy moments of the movie. And one can’t help to crack a smile when a cross joint at one point is passed around at a party, one can only assume a very welcome unsubtle nod to Pineapple Express. Another highlight is Devonte Hynes’ (Test Icicles, Lightspeed Champion) original sound track, which sets the pace for the movie and some of the abstract arty scenes.
Of what I’ve read of Franco’s writing I’ve found it overtually sexualized with gratuitous obscenities and definitely trying to provoke a reaction. Gia has been very honest in her interpretation of the language of Franco’s book. And in some ways, seeing the actors speak the words, it makes more sense than how it the language comes across in the book. However some things, such as the racist language in the film, particularly from Fred, felt forced.
The other thing I found when reading the book that though interesting enough to read, there was no real resolution to the stories and at times they just felt a bit unfinished. Gia’s adaptation is in some ways very faithful to the stories in Franco’s book, but brings some focus and resolution to Franco’s writing and entwines them effectively to create a well-written movie and a very real though slightly heightened portrayal of teenage life, like Skins through a 90’s filter.
The screening I attended was part of the East End Film Festival.
This review was originally posted on the Cinehouse blog.