California has some creepy-ass parents. And even more messed-up kids.
In California, a group of high school students come to terms with what’s supposed to be “adulthood”, yet, can’t seem to shake the fact at all that they might actually have to go through with it. Fred (Nat Wolff) is a wild, crazed lunatic that is downright unstable and on the verge of having himself a full-on, mental breakdown; Teddy (Jack Kilmer) is a meek, quiet, and reserved kid that likes to do most things that any teen on the face of the planet enjoys to do, but finds himself in a bit of a rut when he gets arrested one night; Emily (Zoe Levin) is a girl who gets around and uses sex as a tool for attention, but finds herself actually wanting a relationship with the wild-card that is Fred; and then there’s April (Emma Roberts). April is a smart one, but she’s also confused, angry and bored, which leads her into the arms of her soccer coach/baby-sitter employer (James Franco), and further away from the one that actually wants to be with her (Teddy). These four teens all know each other and find their stories interconnecting in ways, while also share the same idea: Being a teenager blows.
To be honest, that synopsis there was a bit of a stretch for me because there isn’t really much of a premise here. Instead, writer/director Gia Coppola (if you know the last name, you know exactly which family she comes from) just sort of moves this film from one event to the next, without much conflict, arch, or narrative to be found in there. It’a almost as if Coppola got this whole cast together, plopped the camera on the ground, and told them to “go!”, without really taking much initiative.
Probably listening to the Antlers, or whomever the “hip” band is nowadays.
This may all sound like a bad thing, but I can assure you, it’s not. Somehow, this absolutely works for Coppola’s movie because it shows that she’s not judging anybody here whatsoever; there’s no villains, heroes, or clear-cut person that’s easy to predict what their actions next will be. Everybody here is a human being, and because of that stance Coppola seems to take, the movie feels exactly like that: A snapshot of real life, happening in front of our own very eyes. Sometimes, you could even say it’s a bit too real, but there’s something different here about the reality of these teen’s lives that Coppola creates, then against something like say, I don’t know, a Larry Clark movie.
Here, Coppola distances herself away from the material and just allows everyone, and everything to tell itself out; whereas with most of Clark’s movies, it’s clear and obvious that he has some sort of agenda – almost as if he’s just rubbing all of this meaningless debauchery in our faces to show us how realistic it all truly is. But Coppola isn’t that type of director, and while there may be some lurid acts here that may not sit well with possible-parents out there, it still works as a way of getting us deep inside this small, boring life that these young, privileged kids have surrounded around themselves. While plenty of kids do drugs, drink, have sex, break stuff, drink flower-pot water, get into car accidents, and listen to deafening hip, EDM-jams, it’s never supposed to be seen as fun. It may cause some people to laugh in a nostalgic, “hey, I remember when I did that back in the good old days before I got old and boring”-way, but for the most part, it’s supposed to show us, the audience, that these kids are living dull lives.
Yet, it’s all that they have and somehow, you end up feeling bad for them because of so.
For example, take the character of Fred; the kind of guy you knew in high school who didn’t take shit from anyone, anywhere, regardless of it was reasonable or not. He just loved to be an asshole and get his point across, so therefore, he wasn’t the most popular/loved guy in high school, but everybody still knew exactly who he was. Watching him go around, insult people to their faces and basically say, or do, whatever comes natural to him, definitely strikes a chord with most of us who have ever felt that rebellious spirit burning deep down inside of themselves at any time in the adolescence. And because of this, Fred’s a pretty cool guy, albeit, a very dysfunctional one that doesn’t always make the right choices, with the best intentions.
However, that doesn’t make him a terrible human being, per se. It makes him somewhat thinly-minded, but he’s not a terrible person, which is something that Coppola wants to get across about each and everyone of these characters; they make decisions, not all of which will be morally correct in the eyes of “the perfect human specimen”. Because of this, it’s characters like Fred that are seen as honest and raw kids that you could walk into on the street, or may have even met back in the day, before all of the selfies and Twitter took charge of the young, fragile minds.
Gosh, this generation truly is fucked. You know?
Anyway, speaking of Fred, Nat Wolff is a downright scene-stealer in this role and shows me exactly why this kid is a young talent to be looked after. As I’ve said before about Fred, he’s a bit of a punk that doesn’t always do, or say the right things, yet, has a conscience that wants to be with those who appreciate his company and also wants to have a good time. There’s a possibility that his character and Zoe Levin’s may start up something very serious and committed together, and it shows them two as more than just a bunch of reckless, shallow teens; they want love, but they’ve never felt, or had it before, so they don’t know how to approach it or go on about it. Zoe Levin is great too, by the way, and gives Emily a very sad-streak that reminded me of plenty of girls in high school that I “knew”.
I won’t say anything more than that, but yeah, you get my drift.
“Hey, ‘James Franco: Soccer Coach’, has a pretty nice sound to it.”
The other “love” on the other side of this story is supposed to be between Teddy and April, but without saying too much, that angle gets shelved for April and her soccer-coach to engage in some heavy, full-on flirting and kissing. Which, oddly enough, seems to be the main-attraction for this movie, only because of James Franco, but is probably the least-interesting aspect of the whole movie and isn’t even featured all that much to begin with. Franco is good as the pervy older-guy who creeps on April and possible other young gals her age, but isn’t in it all that much to really show him as anything more than just an “old dude who wants to rob the cradle a bit”. You could pretty much just say “half of Hollywood”, but you get the picture.
As for Emma Roberts, she’s amazing as April because, even though her character does some foolish, child-like things, she always seems smarter and more thoughtful than she lets on. When it becomes apparent that she may in fact love her soccer-coach, it isn’t done so in a way that makes it seem like a total fantasy, it’s shown in an understandable, believable way that has us feel bad for April because there’s absolutely no good that come of this, while simultaneously also feeling happy for her that she’s found a possible love in her life and may actually be pursuing it for the first time. This may sound like a total compliment to Coppola, but it’s really to Roberts who allows April to say so much, without saying anything at all and adding layers to her thought-process and the way she handles certain situations.
But the best for last is Jack Kilmer as Teddy, who, if you don’t know by now, is the son of the almighty Val Kilmer (who cameos up in this movie and just about steals the whole thing with only a few words of dialogue). However, just by taking one look at the kid, you’d know that right away because not only does he look a lot like his daddy did when he was a lot younger (and thinner, just saying), but even shows some of the same strengths as an actor as well. Kilmer does a lot of looking, which may seem boring and uninteresting to some, but really emphasizes a certain amount of mystery this kid has going for him and why it matters how quiet he stays. He’s the kind of kid that didn’t really talk much in high school, yet, was always there and was always doing nice things. Like everybody else in this movie, he’s not perfect, but then again, who the hell is?
Better yet, who the hell is considered “perfect” in high school – the time where practically all of us hardly have any idea of what to think of ourselves as being?
Consensus: Well-acted by just about everybody in the cast and thoughtful, Palo Alto is a promising directorial-debut for Gia Coppola that shows her inherent beauty for some of the more quieter moments in adolescence, as well as the ones that have most of us thinking about what’s right, and what’s wrong.
8.5 / 10 = Matinee!!
No way in hell would this ever work! You really think that this person and that person want to be related to one another?
Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz