FILM#: The Big Deal About James Franco’s “Palo Alto”

Drama / Indie / May 19, 2014
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The Who

Emma Roberts, James Franco, Keegan Allen, Nate Wolff and Jack Kilmer in a film written and directed by Gia Coppola.Divider

The What

A film centering around rebellious teenagers and coming of age in Suburban California, based on a short story collection of the same name by James Franco. There’s April, who is the class virgin that gets involved in a serious tryst with her soccer coach Mr. B and has an unrequited crush on sweet stoner Teddy. There’s Emily, who offers sexual favors to every boy to cross her path in an effort to find love, and there are the two best friends, Teddy and Fred, who begin to slowly separate as one friend’s recklessness becomes too much to handle.

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The Big Deal

If there’s one thing I can give to Gia Coppola here, it’s that she made a very pretty film with lots of pretty people in it. The faultiness of the story probably has more to do with its source than it does with her storytelling. The things that the film does well have to do with moments of teenage recklessness and carelessness, but as a story about choosing paths and facing consequences, the film has a problem with thinking it’s smarter than it is.

Emma Roberts plays April as adequately as the script demands. She’s the prototypical good girl of this story surrounded by insecurity and corruptible forces that cause her to act out by hooking up with her soccer coach, Mr. B (sleazily played by James Franco). Jack Kilmer plays Teddy, another good kid supposedly that is guilty of associating with corruptible forces, who spends the movie finding himself while serving community service time due to a hit and run he committed while under the influence of alcohol. He also spends the film slowly realizing his friend Fred (Nate Wolff) is probably dragging him down and isn’t even that cool to hang out with. Fred is a classic spaz: he’s the kind of guy who wears leather jackets in an effort to pass as cool, he has nothing to contribute but dumb jokes and even dumber questions and he’s the classic “why do we hang out with him anyway, nobody actually likes him” character.

With Emily (Zoe Levin), you have another classic trope: the girl who has sex with boys in the hopes that they’ll love her for it. This is the kind of character that can be written in a number of bad ways, but in Franco’s version it’s just too boring to be offensive.

The things the film does right usually involve Fred (or involve cinematography), but again, I don’t hold it against Coppola too much. For a first time feature, she choose a good subject but fell short with a  solid script and enough depth that didn’t feel like anything more than character outlines in a notebook.

There’s no real catharsis for these characters–Teddy maybe, but in a weak sense–things just happen and then it’s over.

One thing is for sure, Coppola has an eye similar to another woman in the Coppola family; the hope though is that she makes more of a name for herself rather than get lumped in with Sofia Coppola. With this cinematography and a lovely score by Dev Hynes, the film’s mood and look are engaging– just not enough to make you forget about the script.  Divider

Grade: C- 

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Tickets & Showtimes | Movie Trailer | Official Website

Palo Alto is currently playing  in select theaters.


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Israel Daramola
Israel Daramola is a writer, video editor and cake enthusiast living in Washington, D.C. You can follow him on twitter or you can go to your mirror, turn off the lights and chant his name three times and he will appear.




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FILM#: The Big Deal About James Franco's "Palo Alto"