George, a lonely and fatalistic teen who has made it all the way to his senior year without ever having done a real day of work, is befriended by Sally, a popular but complicated girl who recognizes in him a kindred spirit.
Shy, sensitive April is the class virgin, torn between an illicit flirtation with her soccer coach Mr. B and an unrequited crush on sweet stoner Teddy. Emily, meanwhile, offers sexual favors to every boy to cross her path - including both Teddy and his best friend Fred, a life wire without filters or boundaries. As one high school party bleeds into the next - and April and Teddy struggle to admit their mutual affection - Fred's escalating recklessness starts to spiral into chaos.
Another coming-of-age story: not bad but fails to stand out
"Palo Alto" (2013 release; 98 min.) brings the story of a group of high school kids. As to movie opens, we see best buddies Fred (played by Nat Wolff) and Teddy (played by Jack Kilmer, yes son of Val--who also appears in the movie) sitting in the car in an empty parking lot. Fred eventually rams the car into a wall from short distance, freaking Teddy out. We also get to know April (played by Emma Roberts, yes Julie is her aunt), who is on the girls soccer team, coached by Mr. B. (played by James Franco). Soon a theme emerges: what most high school kids care about is to party, get wasted and smoke pot, and that's about it After one of those parties, Teddy, driving under the influence, hits another car. He barely avoids juve and must do 150 hrs. of community service in the local library. At this point we're a good 20 min. into the movie and to tell you more would spoil your viewing experience, you'll just have to see for yourself how it all plays out.
Couple of comments: first, this is the big screen directing debut of Gia Coppola, yes THAT Coppola. Francis Ford is her grandfather and Sofia is her aunt. Gia was a mere 25 years old when this movie was shot. You can't help but wonder at the parallel between this and "The Virgin Suicides", Sofia's debut (when she was herself only 26 or 27). Second, the movie is based on James Franco's book "Palo Alto Stories" of a few years ago. I have not read that collection of short stories, so I can't comment how close the movie has stuck (or not) to the original stories. Third, Jack Kilmer absolutely steals the movie with his performance of the vulnerable Teddy. We surely have not seen the last of him. And Emma Roberts of course confirms all the good things that we have seen of her before, although hopefully she won't be playing a 16 yr. old high school kid much longer (she's now 23). "Palo Alto" contains so many "big" and "promising" names, yet in the end fails to truly set itself apart from other "coming-of-age" movies. It's certainly not a 'bad' movie, but in the end it feels like the sums of the parts don't make up the whole.
I saw "Palo Alto" this weekend at the Lincoln Center Film Society in New York, and the matinée screening where I saw this at was strongly attended, somewhat to my surprise. Despite its flaws, "Palo Alto" is still worth checking out, be it in the theaters or eventually on DVD/Blu-ray.
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