Palo Alto 

A moody tale about disaffected teens from the latest member of the Coppola filmmaking family


This coming-of-age drama is the directorial debut of Gia Coppola (granddaughter of Francis Ford Coppola, niece of Sofia), and adapted from short stories penned by actor James Franco, who also appears. Over a few weeks, it follows four teens — sensitive April (Emma Roberts), reckless Freddy (Nat Wolff), even-more-sensitive Teddy (Jack Kilmer, son of Val) and lonely Emily (Zoe Levin) — as they navigate the awfulness of adolescence. Sex is a big part, naturally, with all parties submitting more out of pressure than desire (despite bravado on the part of some characters). Also navigated are: the gap left by absent (or disengaged) parents; drugs and alcohol; balancing self-protection with the demands of a group; crime and punishment; and, in April's case, an inappropriate relationship with her soccer coach (Franco).

Coppola proffers a languid take on familiar material, also presented in a familiar indie manner (loose plot, long scenes of "nothing," a washed-out look). Seasoned viewers will be reminded of Larry Clark's Kids (but with the glossy ennui of privilege) and the teen dramas of Gus Van Sant. (Sharp-eyed viewers will also catch a clip of Fast Times at Ridgemont High, a touchstone coming-of-age film.)

It's buoyed by good performances, especially from Kilmer, that are mostly non-showy. (Wolff's troubled Freddy is on the bubble of real and "movie real.") It delivers a moody sadness that occasionally stumbles into cinematic clich├ęs, such as the film-school close-up of the pink milkshake dropped in the parking lot. It's not a bad first effort — especially if this is a viewer's first confused-kids-are-sad-about-sex-and-life film. The rest of us may feel a little ho-hum about it all.


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