BY ELLA FELDMAN, CONTRIBUTOR
James Franco and Gia Coppola, a young member of the famed Coppola family, have brought yet another film about teenagers in the American high school system to screens this summer. “Palo Alto” is like a darker “Dazed and Confused,” with the characters usually drunk or high and floating around in an aimless manner. The film, directed by Coppola and based on short stories by Franco, follows the lives of kids in the seemingly adult-free California city from which the movie gets its name. These kids are transitioning from teen years of partying to adulthood, and thinking about what they want to do with their lives. “Palo Alto” is foggy and dream-like, each scene somewhat unreal, and the moody soundtrack only adds to this aesthetic. There’s no riveting plot or deep underlying message about society, but if you have the patience for it, the movie is a beautifully-told story about what it’s like to be a teenager.
Jack Kilmer makes his film debut as Teddy, a stoner who has good intentions but often finds himself making bad decisions. He has a crush on April, played by Emma Roberts, a shy and sweet girl with some feelings for Teddy but also for her soccer coach, played by Franco. Fred (Nat Wolff) is Teddy’s reckless and self destructive best friend, who gets involved with Emily (Zoe Levin), a promiscuous but lonely girl who hands out favors like candy to every guy in school. The movie jumps back and forth between these four characters, and their lives intersect every now and then with the feel of pure coincidence. Teddy and April’s chemistry is always present, but takes almost the whole two hours to really develop, and watching April continuously flirt with her creepy coach is extremely frustrating. Also frustrating is watching Fred’s destructive personality drive his life into chaos and watching Emily continuously give herself to boys while struggling to value herself. Although the movie doesn’t give its audiences complete closure, these frustrations are mostly put to rest by the time the credits roll. Gia has a big name to live up to, and for her debut film does a pretty good job. “Palo Alto” captures not just the desperation but also the tenderness and sweetness of being a teenager. Although the tale of troubled youth is universal, the way Coppola portrays it is completely her own.