Setting itself apart from the crowded genre of clichéd teen dramas, Palo Alto is tastefully delivered by the immense talent of first-time director Gia Coppola, granddaughter of Francis, who has succeeded in crafting an absorbing take on youthful flirtation with bad behaviour and social misdemeanour.
The film, based on actor James Franco’s book of short stories, delves into the unsettling transient period between high school and adulthood for a group of disillusioned teenagers. Emma Roberts at her understated best plays April, an enigma of awkward emotion bouncing between the girl who strenuously studies, while paradoxically taking smoke breaks during soccer practice and dangerously flirting with her coach Mr B, played with disturbing creepiness by Franco. Engrossing in every scene and relatable in her entanglement with insecurity and unease, Roberts is the stand out gem of this film.
Matching April’s discomfited retrospective nature, Teddy (Jack Kilmer) presents himself as an introverted artist, sitting precariously under the thumb of his notoriously loose wire best friend Fred (Nat Wolff). Their outlandish drink and pot-fuelled conversations provide welcome comedic value, but Fred’s determination to make their mark as rebellious bad boys sets an unnerving tone. The seduction of Emily (Zoe Levin), a girl permanently tainted with a look of disdainful regret, makes for uncomfortable sexual encounters in her childhood bedroom and her fragile search for validation is in itself a storyline that perhaps has not been given the screen time it deserves.
The scenes focusing on the travails of Teddy and April often linger too far apart from one another to really make the attempt at forging their connection achievable, and their desire for one another is an arch of the story that never quite reaches its potential. Yet both character journeys thoughtfully encapsulate the real teenage anguish that stems from the drift into adulthood.
Palo Alto isn’t entirely original but it does stylishly capture a wistful interpretation of adolescent life that we can all relate to. Often it is the cinematography and unassuming soundtrack that speak louder than the dialogue, and Coppola has certainly taken tips from her aunt Sofia on discreetly merging character emotions with their surroundings. There are moments of real poignancy and genuine heart that make this film a real triumph for its excellent young cast and director.
Palo Alto is released nationwide on 17th October 2014.
Watch the trailer for Palo Alto here: