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article imageReview: Being young is rough in ‘Palo Alto’ Special

By Sarah Gopaul     Jun 11, 2014 in Entertainment
Writer/director Gia Coppola’s feature-length debut, ‘Palo Alto,’ is based on the collected works of James Franco, which encapsulate the complicated highs and lows of adolescence.
So many recent movies about and for teens are based in fantasy. They have vampire lovers, magical powers, supernatural heritages or even just unrealistic adventures around their town. It's been some time since someone produced a more sober look at what it means to be that young. In some ways writer/director Gia Coppola follows in her aunt's footsteps to deliver a raw depiction of high school that doesn't turn away from the sex, drugs and pressures experienced by adolescents. Palo Alto is based on a collection of short stories by James Franco, who also stars in the film.
In spite of April's (Emma Roberts) flighty parents, she’s the class virgin, does well in school and generally stays out of trouble. When a misunderstanding at a party closes the door on a possible romance with her stoner classmate, Teddy (Jack Kilmer), April allows herself to be seduced by her soccer coach, Mr. B. (Franco). Teddy and Fred (Nat Wolff) are best friends, but Fred is a bad influence and asks a lot of strange hypothetical questions. When Teddy's time is occupied by court-appointed volunteer work, Fred fills his by toying with the heart of Emily (Zoe Levin).
The structure of the film is very similar to Kids, in that there is no clear narrative path for any of the characters. Even though some of their choices are predictable, audiences are still just following them through their youthful motions. There's nothing atypical about these teens, which in the end is the point. The urban environment is filled with pitfalls and in one way or another these kids plunge into them.
It didn't necessarily have to be a teacher, but lots of young girls fall prey to older men who give them attention and praise. Drunk driving is par for the course after partying for some early drivers. Low self-esteem and promiscuity are often in bed together because the misconception is sex can be exchanged for love. Slut shaming and violence are nothing new either. However, Coppola is attempting to honestly depict — not exploit — these situations. When the teens are engaged in sexual acts, the camera turns to close-ups of various objects before returning to capture the aftermath.
Coppola isn’t the only legacy in the film. The acting gene runs in Roberts’ and Kilmer’s families too. She is brilliant in every sense, radiating on-screen and delivering an outstanding performance. April is a capable young woman who maintains control even when it looks like she’s turned over the wheel. Kilmer’s debut is impressive, balancing the rebellious teen persona with the nice guy. On the other hand in light of Franco’s Instagram scandal, his role in this picture could be perceived as even creepier than intended.
Director: Gia Coppola
Starring: Emma Roberts, James Franco and Jack Kilmer
More about Review, James franco, Movie, Gia Coppola, Emma roberts
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