Release Date: May 29, 2014
Running Time: 100 minutes
Based on a collection of interconnected short stories that James Franco published in 2010, director Gia Coppola’s high-school drama Palo Alto presents two portraits in teen angst that owe more to the worldview of Bret Easton Ellis than John Hughes. Emma Roberts’ April is the class virgin who refuses to give in to peer pressure and have sex. However, Roberts’ preoccupation with Franco’s soccer coach, Mr. B., borders on the flirtatious. She also harbors feelings toward Jack Kilmer’s Teddy, but both are too hesitant to act on their mutual attraction. Besides, the stoner’s too busy serving 100 hours of community service as a result of causing a car accident while high. While Coppola does an admirable job constructing a seamless narrative that follows April and Teddy’s trials and tribulations, her directorial debut isn’t as compelling as that of her Aunt Sofia Coppola’s ethereal first feature, The Virgin Suicides. This solely has to do with Teddy’s slow and meandering path to redemption. Actually, redemption is too strong a word. Teddy’s not a bad kid. He’s a decent artist who has yet to figure out who he is and what he can offer the world. There’s never a moment in Palo Alto when you feel Teddy puts his future at risk. This lack of genuine concern for Teddy’s well-being undermines Palo Alto. Possessing the gentleness of River Phoenix, Kilmer portrays Teddy as a sensitive soul but there’s little he can do to make his dull and poorly realized pothead worth our time and attention. On the other hand, April’s emotional journey grips us from the moment we first see her go weak at the knees at the sight of Mr. B. She definitely has a crush on her handsome—and divorced—coach. While Roberts makes April a model of young maturity, she ably articulates the confusion that grips a girl who, for the first time in her life, must address her sexual desires. Coppola positions April’s relationship with Mr. B as a cautionary tale no matter how things play out. She doesn’t shy away from presenting April as a sexual being, but she rightly places the burden on Mr. B. in regards to taking advantage of a young woman in his trust. There’s an overwhelming sense that this episode can only make April smarter and stronger, whereas Teddy doesn’t seem to be interested in learning anything from his experiences in Palo Alto. Coppola’s study in contrasts would be more effective if she made us feel as invested in Teddy as we do in April.
Aired: May 28, 2014
Web site: http://paloaltomovie.tumblr.com/