EIFF film review: Palo Alto

Emma Roberts in Palo Alto. Picture: Contributed
Emma Roberts in Palo Alto. Picture: Contributed
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THE Coppola family business would appear to be in safe hands for another generation if Gia Coppola’s debut feature Palo Alto is anything to go by.

Palo Alto

Directed by: Gia Coppola

Starring: Emma Roberts, James Franco, Jack Kilmer, Nat Wolff

Star rating: * * * *

The granddaughter of Francis and the niece of Sophia, she has a dreamy, photographer’s eye for detail and a lyrical, unobtrusive style – things she uses to wonderful effect in this wispy evocation of teenage life. That’s a subject both Francis (with The Outsiders) and Sophia (with The Virgin Suicides) have covered as well, but this Coppola brings something new to the table, capturing that brief, blissed-out moment when teens exist in a sort of netherworld where the freedoms of childhood are rubbing up against the encroaching responsibilities of the adult world. The teens in Palo Alto aren’t uber-confident, hyper-articulate or easily categorized the way they tend to be in most movies about high school. They experiment with drugs and alcohol and sex, make mistakes and figure little things out for themselves, but this isn’t a film built around big melodramatic moments where the characters realise life will never be the same again. Based on a short story collection by ubiquitous polymath James Franco (who also co-stars as a high school girls football coach with a little too much interest in his young charges), Palo Alto instead explores in a more resonant and relatable way how those significant moments just become a part of the fabric of the everyday. It’s only when we’re older that we start looking for cause-and-effect. As a teacher tells a student he’s helping with her homework: “History is about saying what happened and figuring out why it happened.” The film, though, is presented from perspective of the students – none of whom are yet fully attuned to the notion of cause-and-effect. That gives the film a much more truthful quality, something aided by the openhearted performances Coppola’s cast give her. Emma Roberts is especially good as April, a fairly average kid distracted by the inappropriately flirtatious relationship Franco’s character has formed with her. She’s complimented by Jack Kilmer (son of Val), making his debut as Teddy, the vacant, artsy kid she kind of likes but who is himself being led a little astray by his best friend Fred (Nat Wolff). There’s not much more plot to it than this; this is a film of moods and sensations, one that understands that the moment adolescence is over it becomes a half-remembered dream and so should be presented as such.

• Palo Alto screens at the Edinburgh International Film Festival on 19th & 22nd June. edfilmfest.org.uk


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