Based on a short story by James Franco, Palo Alto is the debut feature by the latest member of the Coppola clan to join the family business, Gia Coppola.
Read more: The Coppola family affair
Granddaughter of Francis Ford and niece of Sophia, Gia Coppola lives up to her name with a promising debut, thanks to thoughtful cinematography and good casting. Delivering a portrait of privileged, bored and brooding Californian teens, she creates an ambience that reflects her characters' apathy towards life.
View the trailer for Palo Alto below:
Emma Roberts grounds the story as popular but shy April, the class virgin who has a crush on her soccer coach, played by Franco, for whom she babysits.
She's also drawn to Teddy (Jack Kilmer, son of Val), an introverted artist often led astray by his live-wire best mate Fred, who surely should have been diagnosed by his age.
Refreshingly, for a film about high-school kids, very little takes place at school. There's the occasional awkward encounter around the lockers, quick cigarettes, and scenes at Emily's soccer practices, but for the most part we follow the teens as they drift from party to party.
Unfortunately, all this drifting makes for a rather aimless narrative, but it's also the result of Coppola's naturalist style. There's no hysteria or melodrama as these kids crash cars, get high and have inappropriate sexual relationships. Maybe it's the lack of adults to rage against, with the parents ever more removed from the world around them. In Coppola's world, everyone is left to deal with what life throws at them on their own.
Emma Roberts in Palo Alto.
And this is why Palo Alto is intriguing. Coppola's film is about what she knows; she's obviously more ambitious than her apathetic and self-obsessed characters, but she probably knows a few of them. Far from perfect, but a solid beginning.
Cast: Emma Roberts, James Franco, Jack Kilmer
Director: Gia Coppola
Running time: 100 mins
Rating: R16 (violence, offensive language, drug use and sexual material)
Verdict: Aimless but compelling coming-of-age flick