Palo Alto (2013) – Film Review

Palo Alto Film PosterPalo Alto

Starring Emma Roberts, Nat Wolff, Jack Kilmer, James Franco, Zoe Levin

Directed and written by Gia Coppola, based on the ‘Palo Alto Stories’ by James Franco

IMDB Rating: 6.3

A film following the lives of young adults as they struggle to grow up, Palo Alto tries to paint a less rosy picture than Hollywood often tries to.

Palo Alto – named after the town south of San Francisco that James Franco’s from – follows the lives of a group of teenagers at the end of High School. The film looks at April (Roberts), the shy school virgin who develops a relationship with her divorced but attractive soccer coach (Franco). April also has a crush on cute stoner Teddy (Kilmer), who likes her back but is being pulled down a dark path by live-wire best friend Fred (Wolff). The film also looks at Emily (Levin), a girl renowned for offering sexual favours to any guy that passes.

As opposed to your usual teen coming-of-age movie, this isn’t by any means a feel-good film. Palo Alto tries to paint a more realistic picture of growing up, perhaps drawing on the young life of the Franco’s themselves? As a twenty year old, I would like to think I’m going through all the subjects focused on in this film right now, and to me this feels like a very real teen movie, perhaps one of the most realistic teen films I’ve seen. The characters feel very real, and I feel credit should probably go to Franco for these believable, if not exactly deep, characters. Franco is a man who many people don’t really think that much of, particularly because of his comedic roles, but I think we’ve got to respect him as more than just a funny man.

The acting in this film is pretty solid. Emma Roberts – who seems to have played ‘troubled teen’ more than once – delivers a very arty, but not very emotive performance. However, that does almost sum up the film as a whole. On the other side of things, Nat Wolff – set to star in John Green’s Paper Towns – looked surprisingly good in this film, delivering a strong, passionate and varied performance with a very lively and emotional character in Fred. I was also impressed with young Jack Kilmer, who delivered a quiet but very believable performance in the unofficial starring role here.

The directing in this film is very artistic by Gia Coppola. There’s a lot of scenes that fade over each other – e.g. the dialogue of the previous scene going on while the next scene starts, usually in some still, scenic shot. This is the type of directing you have to focus on, because when it’s quiet there’s probably some hidden message you should be paying attention to. None of this is to say that her directing is bad, but she has a style similar to many of those seen in other independent festival films.

Overall, this was a very enjoyable, believable film with characters that you could really get behind and understand, or at least I could. This is a film made by a young director and a young cast that all have the potential to make bigger things than this in the future!

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