"Try not to hang around Fred."
I'm not sure what attracted me to Gia Coppola's directorial debut, Palo Alto, but I do know that 10 minutes into it I was already regretting my decision. Gia is trying to accomplish something similar to what her aunt Sofia did with Lost in Translation and Somewhere. In Palo Alto we also are introduced to the boring lives of the rich although instead of focusing on successful actors this time the focus is on High School teenagers trying to find their purpose in life. Not that I'm not interested in these explorations, because I really enjoyed Lost in Translation, but I just didn't find any of these characters interesting. The entire story seemed pointless kind of like the lives of these characters which was probably the whole point of the movie, but it simply bored and disengaged me completely. I felt like Gia was desperately trying to tell us something through the beautiful cinematography and soulless characters which were portrayed rather authentically, but it just didn't mean anything to me. I couldn't help but feel that I had seen Emma Roberts play a similar character in the past in films which I actually enjoyed more (It's Kind of a Funny Story and The Art of Getting By came to mind). Perhaps I wasn't the intended target audience, but it's hard for me to picture who they really were. I have heard some positive comments about how authentic these characters were and how well the teenagers captured that similar atmosphere they went through in High School, but it really didn't connect with me. The film seems to suffer from a slow pacing and an uneven story considering it struggles to balance the different story lines that the main characters are dealing with. I do have to give this film credit for not falling into the familiar conventions of the teenage romantic genre, but I also felt the lack of a heavier and more dramatic storyline hurt this film because it didn't seem to go anywhere at times.
Francis Ford Coppola's granddaughter, Gia, has impressed critics with her debut film, and there are several similarities with her aunt Sofia's work (which are explored through the similar cinematography and indie soundtrack). Gia not only directed this film, but she also adapted the screenplay based on James Franco's short stories so her dedication to this film was complete. The performances were also pretty strong and as I mentioned before these characters felt authentic and believable. They fight their boredom by searching for love, getting high or drunk, and partying all the time. I didn't really have a problem with the performances, but what really hurt this film was the uneven story and the lack of a tighter narrative. Many scenes felt forced and the story didn't seem to go anywhere at times. There were a lot of things that just never led anywhere. I really enjoyed Jack Kilmer's performance as Teddy, the kind teen who has a crush on April (Emma Roberts) but is too shy to express his feelings. He also seems to hang around the wrong crowd. Nat Wolff plays Fred, the self destructive teenager who is always getting his friend Teddy into trouble. Fred also has a destructive relationship with Emily (Zoe Levin) who he simply uses when he feels like it and pushes her away when not. April is also shy and torn between what she feels for Teddy and her soccer coach (played by James Franco) whose son she babysits during her free time. Franco plays himself really, but Emma Roberts has received most praise for her role. However for me the stand out was Val Kilmer's son Jack, who really proved to have depth and charisma. The performances are earnest and authentic, but the story simply doesn't go anywhere and feels incomplete. It was hard to sympathize with these shallow and overprivileged kids as well, and I haven't even mentioned the lack of a respectable adult figure in the entire film.